PURE, delightful, randomness…I sat in front of the television to eat my breakfast and happened on An Apology to Elephants – a documentary on National Geographic.
The film is an unabashed polemic, calling for improved treatment of elephants in zoos and an end to the use of the animals as entertainment, which the film contends must invariably involve abuse. I didn’t see it from the beginning, but I was drawn in somewhere around the “third half”!
This is what I witnessed:
• Elephants swaying in enclosures that were big, but not big enough for these animals that clearly wanted to be free. They moved agitated from one foot to the next with a nervousness that was palpable
• An old clip of a famous elephant being electrocuted by Edison
• Elephants with foot diseases – because conditions were unsanitary
• Chained and roped elephants being brought to submission so that they could be “trained” to perform
• Baby elephants being briskly removed from mothers to start the training process early.
Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, said the film misrepresented its practices, but I couldn’t help but relate back to how we keep ourselves imprisoned, and how our own best practices for ourselves keep us in a place of always striving – never arriving. I cried that morning – yes for the elephants – but then I realised that I too was an “elephant” along with many others I know except that we are both trainer and animal – SAD!
We force ourselves to operate in well-defined, tight familiar surroundings – not giving ourselves any freedom to express or create. And we wonder why we are irritable all the time, have headaches and are constantly standing in a pool of dissatisfaction. No wonder we’re getting “foot disease.”
Bull hooks are often driven in to the tender areas of an elephant’s body to make it cooperate. Electric shock, whips, baseball bats and pipes are also among the methods used to force the animals to cooperate in training.
Extreme – sure – but what do we do? We are our worst cheer leaders. We never do anything right. We never acknowledge if we actually make progress because it’s not good enough. We brush off compliments and praise from our peers. We claim that we don’t NEED praise we just need to get to the next rung, in the same enclosure, going nowhere really. Tragic that we would imprison ourselves in the name of doing better.
Just as there’s hope for the elephants with folks like Lily Tomlin, educating and encouraging zoos to better care for these animals there is hope for us too. But like the elephants we have been chained in this place for so long that even when set free, or given an opportunity at freedom we can’t move.
We need to retrain ourselves to move a little bit every day. No big massive moves. No thinking too big because that will overwhelm us and freeze our steps.
Maya Angelou tells us that life is an adventure and the sooner we realize that, we will be able to treat life as art. You see most of us keep looking outside for guidance and finding the best way to do this or that; bending ourselves into uncomfortable pretzels that don’t feel right but we press on in the name of perfection and doing it right. When what we need to understand is that we were created creative. Maya says ‘we can invent new scenarios as needed.”
So starting today, pay attention to your inner compass. We all came fully loaded with one. Beware that when providence provides the idea or thought it can vanish in a second never to return so make a habit of writing things down. As you become more self-aware, and as you engage in focused effort you will eventually grow into a free, open space, big enough to hold you, but not so tightly fenced that if you want to expand further you couldn’t easily push through the gates and move on.
Let the captured elephant remind us how we imprison ourselves by limits and wanting to be perfect.
Be guided by these words by Teacher Angelou
Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous and unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.
Be encouraged. You can break free! Just be patient and loving with yourself.