The elephant and the rope

Why elephants don't move if one of their leg is tied with a small rope?

Trainers in India tie a small rope around the front leg of an adult elephant and then the elephant will not move more than a few feet in any direction, even though the other end of the rope is not tethered to anything.

No chains, no cages. 

It was obvious that the elephant could, at any time, break away from his bonds but for some reason, he did not. 

Why does the elephant behave in this strange way? 

It’s because when the elephants were baby, the trainer tied one end of a rope around thier leg and tied the other end to a stake. In this way, the little elephants could only move a few feet in any direction no matter how hard he worked. 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.

These huge animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t they were stuck right where they were. 

How often are we like the elephants in the story? How often do we have mental ropes around our legs that are holding us back from trying? 

This gives us an insight into why many trained musicians fear improvisation

In most music study, the main objective in the beginning years is to learn to play the right notes at the right time. 

Since this valuable activity is not counterbalanced by experiences in free improvisation, an unchecked emphasis on correctness soon functions like the rope in the story, tethering musicians to the paralyzing notion that they need to do all musical activities correctly or they will look like fools. 

And so, these musicians quite naturally feel uncomfortable stepping outside the circle of “correct” into the wider spaces of creativity

Musical training should set free invisible parts of ourselves, not tether us to our seemingly endless fears of incompetency, disapproval, and abandonment.

As educators, our job is to help our students learn to be both correct and creative, or they become like these trained elephants, unable to take more than a few steps in any direction because of imaginary fears.

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