The Elephant’s Quandary

elephantsAll the elephants plod along, trunk upon tail, slowly flapping their ears – until – somewhere a goad sets them off. Some ill-mannered driver lets her own angst and anger push the prod too hard. It wakes the elephant, who releases the tail in front of her and trumpets her frustration, suddenly waking to the silliness of it all.

Who said that silly driver is worth listening to? Why should her anger determine the course of the elephants? Why do her desires rule?

Rebellious thoughts! The other elephants turn and flap their ears, shifting from one foot to another. There is good to be done in the line, they think. Look at all we have accomplished. Look at the great stone walls we have raised. Look at the pathways we have smoothed and groomed. Look at the way the younger elephants have fallen to the task, as well – adding their young bulk to ours. The effort of elephants yields strong and steady progress. It takes the drivers to keep things organized and flowing smoothly. Sure, once in a while they go awry – but much worse would be the chaos of unstructured activity. We can do so much more together.

True, true. But again, who drives the drivers? And what if one of them goes astray? Has she led the whole line off track? What good is organized and orderly if it’s headed the wrong way? And how to get out of this mess? Do we look for another driver? Do we hope the driver’s boss wakes up? Do we join another herd?

Elephants know things that drivers do not. Deep things that don’t often find their way to words. Things about the power of the herd, about the importance of relationship, about persistence, about patterns.

A rider can see things far off and anticipate a better path. A rider evaluates, anticipates.

A rider and an elephant can learn from each other, if they will. Somehow they must learn each other’s language. The elephant must learn to listen to words – to catch the story within them. The rider must learn what flows without words – in muscle and memory and music and myth.

But that driver with the angry prod … I don’t want her riding me. I’m looking for a worthy rider.

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[the rider and elephant metaphor is drawn from the work of Jonathan Haidt. In this story, the rider is actually reacting in an elephantish manner.]

[photo “Elephants out for a walk” by Elvis Payne per cc 2.0]

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