There’s an old allegory about a baby elephant that is tied to a fence post. As the baby elephant tugs and pulls, it fails to break the fence or break the rope. Eventually, it gives up and makes peace with its fate. The baby elephant is stuck.
In psychology, this is called learned helplessness. All sorts of experiments have been done to show that animals, including humans, will “learn” to not take action against harmful stimuli in their environments when they think their actions have no impact. I say “learn” in quotation marks because it turns out that the original theory got it backwards: we actually don’t learn to be helpless, our default is helplessness. Instead we have to learn to take control of our actions. It might seem like a subtle, nitpicky difference, but it actually has huge implications for our lives.
But eventually, the elephant grows up and becomes a big, adult elephant with gargantuan legs and a huge tusk and swirly trunk and it could easily walk away from the fence if it wanted to. But believing the fence to be some immovable thing, the adult elephant remains tied to it, falsely …
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