Freedom — The Elephant Rope and The Human Rope

If we wish to be free from our collective human ropes, we must stop tying up our fellows

There is an old tale that you may have heard about an elephant and a rope.

The Elephant and the Rope

As my friend was passing the elephants, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact that these huge creatures were being held by only a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious that the elephants could, at anytime, break away from the ropes they were tied to but for some reason, they did not. My friend saw a trainer nearby and asked why these beautiful, magnificent animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away.

“Well,” he said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same size of rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.” My friend was amazed. These animals could, at any time, break free from their bonds. But because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.

Although this story is popular as a dose of inspiration, I find it unbearably sad.

Yes, it contains a great message of hope. The elephant is a perfect example of being incapable of achieving what we easily could — because we believe we cannot. I am not discounting the inspirational messaging in this concept. My question is…

Why are we ignoring the rope???

Us knowing that the elephant could move if it wanted to does not help him move. No matter how much we know that he could move, he cannot move until he knows he can. Our human ropes are no different.

Despite our knowing that our limiting beliefs — our ropes — are the only thing holding us back, we do nothing about these ropes. Sure, it feels good knowing that we could all break free at any moment. But how are we going to do that if we do not remove our ropes? And how do we break free of our ropes if we do not know what they are — or where they are?

Collectively, we move forward with our ropes around our ankles, finding comfort in hope. We let hope be enough, and we live on the motivation that, one day, we could cut our ropes or rip them away. One day we might — but we don’t. Knowing that it is only these ropes of belief that hold us back, we keep them anyway.

The ropes that bind us

Many ropes around our ankles tell us we cannot move one way or another — we cannot move as far as we wish.

We have ropes of trauma and abuse, ropes of societal conditioning, and ropes of the people around us who have whispered doubt into our ears — doubt that became our own inner voice. We have ropes of fear, shame, and guilt — ropes of obligation and weaponized responsibility and humility. So many ropes they could never all be understood, let alone named. But there is one rope that ties together all the ropes that hold us back. It is the rope of doubt.

Intently, I thought and thought about the elephant and the rope. I day-thought about the elephant. It is a kind of dreamy state, where you think about something, but you aren’t actively thinking. You just, kind of, sit there with it. Picking it up here and there to bounce around, setting it back down, gazing upon it and just soaking it all in.

Amazed and perplexed, I asked — what is our rope? And more, why on earth do so many of us know about the elephant and the rope, yet we have not ripped away our own ropes? We must not know them. For if we did, we would surely destroy them in an instant — just like the elephant would.

No matter how intricate our varying ropes may be — for every unique individual surely has their own unique set of ropes — there must be something simple that underlies it all.

As Al used to say,

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. — Albert Einstein

To explain our ropes simply, one must concentrate on the rope that binds us all — the rope of doubt.

If you have done any amount of honest reflection on yourself, life, and society as we know it, it is no secret that most of us were conditioned to doubt ourselves from a very young age. Of course, there will be anomalies, as is always in life. But for the rest of us, our life may have started off brimming with sunshine, but inevitably, we reached a point where people began sowing seeds of doubt in our minds and hearts.

When Santa was no longer real, and they started telling us what boxes we needed to check if we wanted to “be successful”, that’s when it began. And for years we soaked up every bit of doubt from the world around us.

The world told us what we needed to look like to be attractive enough, what we needed to act like to be acceptable enough and what we needed to do if we wanted to be enough. And just like the tooth fairy disappeared at a certain age, so did the childlike dreams of possibility.

Instead of telling us we could do anything, people started telling us what we couldn’t do. Where we used to hear how great we were and how everything would be okay, we heard what was wrong with us and how terrible things would turn out if we weren’t good enough — how it wouldn’t be okay.

We grow up taught to doubt ourselves. And because we have doubt inside of us, that is what we give others. And so the cycle continues.

There we stand, just like the elephant. We, too, are beautiful and miraculous creatures who hold power beyond measure. But, like the elephant, we cannot go any further than our short ropes allow. And, just like the elephant, these ropes are placed on us by humans — humans who have no idea they are continuing this debilitating cycle of mass human failure, poverty and misery.

The key to destroying our collective human ropes is not to find the ropes that bind us as individuals and cut ourselves loose. No. If we wish to be free from our collective human ropes, we must stop tying up our fellows.

Written by Holly Kellums

Originally published on

Featured image by Comfreak from Pixabay

Published by hollykellums

Internationally Published Author * Influencer * Recovery Coach * Human Potential Activist

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