I'm not an animal rights activist. I'm not an animal lover...or even an animal liker for that matter. I don't hate animals. I don't hurt animals. I just don't prefer to have a bunch of pets. I don't want to sleep with animals at night or have them sit in my lap. I'm perfectly fine with fur...I eat meat...and I love leather and snakeskin. I think it's safe to say I won't be joining a PETA protest anytime soon...so it goes without saying that I don't read much about "cruelty to animals". I didn't know how circus elephants are "trained" until last week. When I heard the process by which they are trained...it made me kinda sad for the elephants...but it also helped put some things in my life into perspective.
Obviously, elephants are very powerful animals...and much stronger than humans. They have the power to escape from the circus...it's just that they don't know it. The elephants are caught when they are very young and they are chained to strong stakes that are driven deep in the ground. They struggle and fight to free themselves but the chain is too strong. Eventually, the elephant realizes that it can't break free and it quits trying. From that day on, the elephant believes that it cannot free itself as soon as it feels any resistance at all. In fact, a circus elephant can be tied to a small flimsy stake with a thin piece if rope and it will not try to escape because it has been conditioned to believe that it is powerless. This is called "learned helplessness".
Elephants are not the only creatures that can be conditioned this way. Humans can as well. If a person is told how worthless they are...over and over and over again...soon they will believe that they are. If people tell you that "you can't"...or shouldn't...enough times...eventually you won't even try. I wonder if those elephants can ever be "untrained". I wonder if it's possible for them to realize their strength and their ability to go where they want to go. My guess would be that it isn't possible after a certain amount of time.
I've always felt like I can't...like I will fail. So many times I've behaved like a circus elephant. I have the power to tear free and do whatever I want to do, but I rarely try because I worry that I'll fail. As soon as I face resistance...I feel helpless. I worry that I have been conditioned to fail..to lose...to give up. Thinking about this makes me sad. I am so much better than I use to be...than I thought I could ever be. My friend gave me a gift. He brought things out in me that surprised me...glimpses of strength...moments of feeling like a winner. That is priceless. I think that just like the elephant...I will always have some small form of "learned helplessness" that holds me back at times. I can't change what has happened to me, but I CAN try hard to build other people up...to in a sense free them from the heavy chains before they learn to feel helpless. I especially want my kids to grow up feeling like their potential is limitless. I want them to realize the power that they each have within themselves. I want to teach them to fight against any resistance, because I don't ever want them to give up or feel helpless...like me.