When I was a kid, my school used to host a circus every summer. In the morning, I would sneak behind the circus tent and watch the animals being fed and trained. That was one of my greatest joys.
I remember looking at the elephants, and noticing something that fascinated me and kept me wondering for a while: knowing how powerful an elephant is, I was surprised to see a thin rope tying the elephant’s leg to a pole, and that the elephant never tried to escape even though it wouldn’t take any effort for it to cut the rope and walk away.
After a while, I gave up guessing and went to ask one of the trainers. He smiled and said:”It wasn’t always a rope, you know. When the elephant is young, we put a hard chain around its leg so that whenever the elephant pulls, it would feel the resistance of the strong chain and know that how far it can go.”.
“When the elephant grows up”, he continued, “there is no need for the chain anymore. We just put a thin rope around its leg and the elephant stops pulling whenever it feels that rope. The elephant doesn’t know anymore that the chain is gone, and that the rope tying it to the pole can be easily broken as soon as it decides to walk away. The only limitation that elephant has, is in its own mind.”
“For the elephant,” the trainer said, “all that it knows is the memory of the old chain, and the slight feeling of resistance from the thin rope… The elephant doesn’t know the difference. “