-I can’t – I told him – I can’t!
– Are you sure? – he asked me
– Yes, I would like nothing more than to be able to sit down face-to-face and tell her how I feel. But I know I can’t.
The Fat Man sat himself down like a buddha in one of the horrible blue armchairs in his office. He smiled, he looked me in the eyes and, lowering his voice as he did every time he wanted to be listened to attentively,
– Let me tell you a story…
And without waiting for my approval, he began.
The Story of the Chained Elephant
When I was a small boy, I loved going to the circus. Animal acts were my favorite. I was quite impressed by the elephant, who is — as I found out later — the favorite animal of all children. The elephant’s part of the show was a display of his huge weight, his immense size and power… Then, as the show was approaching its end, slightly before the elephant had to return to his tent, he was standing tied to a tiny wooden stake driven partially into the ground. A chain was wrapped around his feet.
The size of the stake was very small, and the part of it that was driven into the ground was even smaller. The chain that was wrapped around the legs of the elephant was quite large, but it seemed quite obvious, even to my childish mind, that an animal whose power was so large, so immense that it could rip trees off the ground and hurl them to others, was more than enough to let the elephant just rise and walk away.
That was the mystery of the elephant.
What sort of immense force could keep the elephant tied to that tiny stake?
Why didn’t he rise and walk away?
When I was five or six years old, I put great trust in the wisdom of the elder people. So I asked my teacher, my father, and my uncle about the mystery of the elephant. I don’t remember anymore who gave me the particular answer, but one of the replies was that the elephant doesn’t run away because he is “tame”.
Then I asked the obvious question: “If he’s tame, why do they have to chain him?” I don’t think I ever got a satisfactory answer to this question.
As time went by, I forgot all about the mystery of the huge elephant and the tiny stake. The mystery would only resurface when I was at the company of others who had wondered about the same thing.
Then, a few years ago, I discovered that someone knew why the elephant doesn’t run away.
The elephant doesn’t run away because they have been tying him to a similar stake ever since he was very very small too.
I closed my eyes, and I tried to imagine the small, newborn elephant,chained to the ground. The small elephant would push, pull and struggle with all his strength, trying to free himself, but he would fail. Despite all his efforts, he would fail again and again, because that stake and chain was too big for his strength.
The elephant would sleep exhausted from all his efforts to free himself, and would wake up the next day. All his struggles would fail the next day too, and a third day, and a fourth, and many tiresome, exhausting days after those. Then one day would come — a horrible day for the history of our elephant — a day that he would just give up, and accept his fate, deciding that he was too weak to escape, that his strength was not enough and would never be enough.
The huge and immensely powerful elephant that we see in the circus does not run away because the poor animal believes that he cannot do that.
The memory of the lack of strength he felt a little after his birth is now deeply engraved to his very soul and spirit.
The worst of it all is that he has never tried to free himself since.
He never ever tried to test his powers again.
We are all a little bit like the circus elephant: we move through the world attached to hundreds of stakes that wrest from us our freedoms.
We live thinking we can’t do many things simply because once, a long time ago, when we were small, we tried to do something and couldn’t.
We do the same thing to ourselves that the elephant did, we etch into our minds this message: “I can’t – I can’t and I will never can.”
Jorge paused for a long time. Then he came closer, he sat down on the floor in front of me and continued:
– That’s what is happening to you Damian. You go on living conditioned by the memory of a Damian, who no longer exists, who couldn’t do it.
Your only way of knowing if you can do it is to try again, putting your whole heart into it… Your whole heart!
-From the book Let me tell you a story, Jorge Bucay
Every now and then, it’s good to question whether the chains holding you back still exist. No one, not even yourself, should be allowed to set borders or limits for you.