BeliefWorks This Week
Here is a little story, from the book, “BeliefWorks” that illustrates how we make decisions, take action, and exhibit behavior enslaved by what we have agreed to believe.
“FOR CENTURIES, IN WHAT ARE NOW INDIA, THAILAND, SRI
Lanka, and Burma, elephants were used for transportation, war, and the hard labor of mining and logging. Wealthy kings owned many elephants, keeping them in immense stables and even forming elephant cavalries. The legendary general Hannibal used elephants to cross the Alps and battle the Romans 250 years before Jesus of Nazareth was born.
Capturing wild elephants was a dangerous and daunting task. Before an elephant could be ridden it needed to be trained, and before training could begin it needed to be broken. Old methods for taming elephants were brutal. Once the enormous animal was captured, a handler would start by chaining each foot to a nearby tree and leaving the elephant without food or water. The elephant would rebel-trumpeting, bellowing, stomping, and snorting in defiance. Finally, after three days or so, the elephant would give up. Having defeated it, the handler could approach the giant animal with food and water and training could begin. Eventually each elephant learned its job and went to work.
Once an elephant could be trusted, its handler would tie it down during breaks in the middle of the workday, not with shackles and chains, but with a rope around one foot and a stake driven into the ground.
This method of securing an elephant with a thick rope and stout stick pounded into the ground works amazingly well for restraining an 11,000-pound animal that can uproot trees and carry loads of up to half a ton all day long. A fully grown elephant can easily pull a stake out of the ground and roam free, but it rarely does. Why? Because the memory of its domestication is like a scar. The elephant doesn’t tear the tether out of the ground the first chance it gets, because it doesn’t believe it can.
Of course, the elephant tied to a tether can’t use words. But if it could, the agreements attached to its belief-I can’t-might sound something like this:
The rope is more powerful than I am.
If I struggle, it will hurt and I’ll go hungry.
Every one of us, in our domestication from child to adult, made certain agreements. These agreements are conclusions we come to in so many ways. Sometimes it’s the environment or culture that surrounds us, the influence of an inspiring adult, a choice that comes from pain, or the result of years of education. Sometimes it’s a promise we make to ourselves that emerges from a pattern in our life that repeats itself a thousand times. And sometimes it’s the result of one mesmerizing and overwhelming event. Whatever it is, through our experiences we develop a belief system that is, in its essence, our mythology.
We have been taught that myths are either half-truths or legends about larger-than-life gods and goddesses battling it out using the forces of nature in supernatural ways. In fact, myths are really made-up stories that explain life. In the same way, we all have a personal mythology that now guides us through our life that contains every belief, rule, and agreement we’ve assembled.
There are two very interesting things about the myth. First, it’s almost invisible. It’s a powerful influence but we’re hardly aware of it. Second, it’s a cage, and the builder and the guard are one and the same.
In the story the elephant agreed it can’t get away – no matter what.. The elephant doesn’t see that what is holding it back is merely an illusion, unshakably real and yet as solid as smoke.
Like the elephant, we too construct handcuffs, largely unnoticed, fabricated by thousands of bargains we make that define what is true and what is not. We make decisions, take action, and exhibit behavior every day, enslaved by what we have chosen to believe.”
Ray Dodd, author – The Power of Belief