Posted by: phynbarr | August 1, 2015

Of chickens and elephants

My mother used to say that if you pressed a chicken’s head down so that the beak touched the ground and drew a line away from the beak with chalk, the chicken would stay there.  Until it starved to death she reckoned.  Wikipedia says (so it must be true) that this is “tonic immobility” and can last up to 30 minutes.  Happens with rabbits as well.  Don’t mistake immobility and compliance with willingness and cooperation.  Those under threat learn early the benefits of stillness.

It is also said that elephant if chained as a calf will remain shackled for life even when it grows adult enough to be able to easily rip apart the chain and anything it may be attached to.  It has learned helplessness.

So it is with people.  Only we absorb our shackles internally.  They are rarely visible but they are just as powerful.  Lessons we take in before we can speak or walk and those that are given to us along the way. Like the elephant and the chicken, they may help us survive.

But do the chicken or the elephant or the person ever fully shake off those bonds?  If you removed every fetter would that elephant cub ever be free?

Can we reverse the tide?  Can learned helplessness become unlearned . . . . . . . . .  What is the opposite of helplessness?  Power? Confidence?  Authority?  Or are we as shaped by our circumstances as the cliffs by the sea?lulworth-cove-and-durdle


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