THE CHAINED ELEPHANT
(Short story written by Jorge Bucay)
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.
During the performance, this enormous beast would nobly display its tremendous weight, size, and
strength... But after its performance, and until just before it went out on stage, the elephant was
always tied down with a chain to a little stake in the ground that held one of its feet.
The stake however was just a minuscule piece of wood, hardly a couple of centimeters long. And
although it was a strong thick chain, it seemed obvious to me that an animal capable of tearing a
tree from its roots, could easily free itself from that stake and flee.
This mystery continued to puzzle me. What held the elephant there? Why didn't it escape? When I
was 5 or 6, I still trusted the explanations given by grownups. So, I asked my teacher, my father,
and my uncle about the mystery of the elephant. One of them explained that the elephant didn't
escape because it had been tamed.
So I asked the obvious question: " If it's been tamed, why do they keep it in chains?"
I don't remember having received a coherent answer. With time I forgot about the mystery of the
elephant, I only remembered when I found others who had asked themselves the same question at
Years later, I discovered that, to my luck, someone had been sufficiently wise to come up with the
The circus elephant does not escape because it has been attached to a stake, just like this
one, since it was very, very little.
I closed my eyes and imagined a defenseless baby elephant fastened to the stake. I am sure that
in that moment, the little animal pushed and pulled and tired himself out trying to get himself free.
And, regardless of his efforts, he couldn't do it, because the stake was too strong for him.
I imagined him tiring himself out and falling asleep and the next day trying again, and the next day,
and the next. Until one day, a terrible day in it’s history, the animal accepted its powerlessness and
resigned itself to its fate.That enormous powerful elephant that you see in the circus does not
escape because, poor thing, he thinks he can't.
He has that memory etched into his mind: the hopelessness that he felt shortly after he was born.
And the worst part is that he has never returned to seriously question that memory. Never again
did he return to test his own strength...
We are all a little bit like the circus elephant: we move through the world attached to hundreds of
stakes that rest our freedoms from us. We live our life 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’ll never be able.”
At best, every so often, we feel the shackles and we jangle the chains or we look out of the corners
of our eyes at the stake and confirm our belief: “ I can’t and I’ll never be able”.
Your only way of knowing if you can do something is to try again, putting your whole heart into it…
Your whole entire heart.