I'm sure you've heard the expression, "Elephants never forget". Well, there's a very good reason why that expression is so popular. read a story of an elephant in Hohenwald, Tennessee, who recognised another elephant out of a group of new arrivals to the Elephant Sanctuary. It turned out they had both been at the same zoo for just one week, 23 years ago! Imagine that!
Having such a great memory must be wonderful. Like some sort of superpower. Everything you have ever seen, everything you have ever been told, every emotion you have ever felt, all available for you to recall at a split second's notice. Exams would be so easy! Yeah, that'd be cool. Of course, there is the obvious downside, which is, you would remember everything! GOOD and BAD.
Every harsh word that was ever said to you, every horrible experience you have ever been through, every failure you ever chalked up, every time someone told you that you were worthless, every time you ever doubted yourself, every single negative experience you have ever been through would be indelibly imprinted on your memory for your entire life.
Now, a memory is a powerful thing. In fact, every single detail your mind holds as a fact is from a memory. Our actions and choices are informed by the details contained in our memories. There are so many of us who measure ourselves and our capabilities by what we have been told. We are as strong as someone else said we are, as handsome as someone else thought we were, as clever as someone else determined us to be, sometime long, long ago.
Now, the first time I ever saw an elephant was at a family trip to the zoo. We arrived at the moment when a gigantic one was being returned from the veterinarian's station to its enclosure. The colossal mammal was being led by one rather skinny attendant who guided it by a very feeble-looking rope, tied to the elephant's front leg. The whole setup looked a bit… well, flimsy… to me. This was a huge beast. Surely, any minute, it would break away from that frail attendant and stampede its way through the crowd in a wild bid for freedom. But this didn't happen. The 18-foot tall, five and-a-half tonne African giant followed the attendant calmly into the safety of the enclosure.
Later on, I saw the "slim-macho" attendant enjoying a quiet moment in a corner with his newspaper. I intruded long enough to ask him whether he ever worries about the elephant breaking loose from that insubstantial looking rope.
The anaemic looking zookeeper smiled and said, "I'll tell you a secret. That elephant has been with us since he was a calf. Back then, he weighed just about 100 kilograms, and that little rope was strong enough to hold him, no matter how hard he struggled. He is twenty years old now, but he never forgot how strong that rope was, so he doesn't even bother trying to break free from it".
And with that, he gave me a wink and returned to his newspaper.
My people, I think you know what I'm trying to say to you. Sometimes, we build our own prisons and lock ourselves within. We hold on to the wrong memories and define our potential by the limitations of our past. They said you couldn't read as a kid, and so you think you can't read law as an adult? Nobody trusted you with money in secondary school, so you think you can't run a business today? She said no to you when you were in university, and you still get tongue-tied around her now?
Listen to me. That was then, this is now. You are far more intelligent, far more capable and far more powerful than they said you were, and it's time that you flexed your muscles and pulled at that rope. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. Stay as you are in the prison of other people's judgement, and you can expect nothing. No change, no improvement, no progress. Nothing. You will just remain whatever you are today, for the rest of your life.
But if you could break away from your elephant self for a moment – if you could close your mind to the negative memories and just believe for a second that you are more than they say you are – well, you never know, that feeble rope just might snap, and you could stampede your way to a life full of potential.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I am NOT an elephant.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!
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