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Of Chains, Maps, And Reality
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Of Chains, Maps, And Reality

If you’ve ever gone to a circus, you’ve most likely noticed the little chain around the elephants’ ankles. Doesn’t it seem like those little links wouldn’t hold them if they really wanted to get away?

Well, surprisingly, when they’re not performing, the chain that ties that anklet to the little post sticking out of the ground is even smaller. A good-sized dog could break the rope or rip the post out of the ground without much effort. So, what’s the magic that prevents their escape?

Not magic, but psychology.

The truth is this ‘mind trick’ is not only being perpetrated on the elephants, but on we human on a daily basis.

It’s immorally simple.

While the elephant is still young and relatively weak, a strong, heavy chain holds their leg to a thick stake driven deep into the ground. The little elephant, try as he might, cannot pull himself free, no matter the exertion.

Again and again the little titan will pull the chain from every possible angle, but will never escape. Eventually, he comes to believe that chain is a permanent part of his reality, and gives up trying to accomplish what he now sees as impossible.

He will no longer try to pull the stake out of the ground.

His captivity has become his reality.

This is, of course, a huge advantage to the animal’s owner, who now no longer has to take the time nor effort to drive the stake deep into the ground, and worse, to have to free it again at every new town they stop in, and instead can use a smaller, lighter chain and stake to secure him. As well, the animal has been effectively tamed, and other forms of instruction become that much easier, since the elephant believes in the owner’s absolute power over him.

In 1933, a Polish count and mathematician named Korzybski stated, “The map is not the territory.” By this he meant to suggest that we tend to experience the world through our senses, and then create a representation of that world within our minds.

However, the problem lies in that representations are inherently not accurate, at least not for long. In other words, the representations of the outside world are only that: representations. Those representation could never be completely accurate as our senses are never perfect.

We cannot know all there is to know about anything.

As well, everything changes. The person I see today may look different tomorrow, either through fault of their own, or by external forces outside their control. The statue I believe I know well may be covered in ivy or a part may have been damaged, changing it forever.

Again, regardless of what we think we know, we cannot know it completely, and thus, our mind’s eye is always flawed, even if ever so slightly.

Add to this another limiting fact: your senses are receiving more than two million bits of information every second but your conscious mind can’t possibly deal with more than a few bits at any one time. Therefore, a LOT of information is filtered out. This process is done by the influences of your beliefs and values, your memories, your experiences, your past decisions, and your cultural and social background.

Understandably, you should be aware what you have in your mind is only a shadow of what really is, and therefore, should never be considered to be completely accurate. You can only do your best to ‘represent’ reality as best you can, but to be honest, any and all representations should always be questioned and updated through experiencing the related reality again and again.

If this were true for the elephant, the owner would never stop needed that big stake, and in fact would need a bigger and stronger one as the elephant grew, right?

This is a long way of saying, “Don’t be arrogant enough with your understanding of reality, whether yours or that of someone else, to believe it will stand up to the test of time. Although you may be somewhat accurate in your belief system, wait long enough and it will no longer apply.”

If you really want to be wise, stop thinking you are. Mark Twain once said, “At the age of sixteen, I couldn’t believe how stupid my parents were. At the age of twenty, I couldn’t believe how much they’d learned in four years.” The world had not changed, but his perception of it had. And that is the basis of the freedom of letting go to your limiting beliefs in order to find a world with which you can work in harmony, and flourish.

Challenge your beliefs. Start with your own, because it’s nearly impossible to change those of anyone else, unless they’re willing. (Doing so is called brainwashing, and I think it’s illegal, to say the least.)

Question WHY you believe what you do. Where did you get those beliefs? Your parents? Your friends? The media? Who makes the decisions about what you believe? If you decide that it’s you, after all, then you have the power to challenge them. And even if you think you’ve been influenced to believe the way you do, who’s making the decision about the rest of your life?

Ultimately, if you start taking full responsibility for your decisions, what's the worst that could happen?

You COULD become enlightened.

And happier, and healthier, and wealthier.

But, as always, it’s up to you.

Light, love, and the strength to be better.

Michael B.


Street Talk

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