Elephants have always fascinated me.
I recently saw a cartoon which showed a pastor and a deacon standing in front of the congregation. You see a lot of people, but there is a big elephant sitting right in the middle of the group. People were asked to give that cartoon a caption. One was the deacon speaking to the pastor, “He heard you work for peanuts, too.” Another said, “He’s actually the perfect member: thick skinned, all ears, and never forgets a word.” Another has the deacon saying, “Pastor you won’t be able to get away with recycling a sermon you preached 20 years ago.” Another said, “Deacon, you tell him the blessing of the animals isn’t till next Sunday!”
One lesson learned from elephants concerns early childhood training. I have read that if you take an elephant when he is very small and tie his foot to a strong stake, he will pull against the stake, but will be unable to pull it up. He then assumes that he can’t get away. When an elephant becomes huge, I am told you can tie his foot to a small insignificant stake, and he doesn’t try to get away because he thinks and remembers it would be impossible. Early training creates habits in our minds that govern us the rest of our lives.
Another important lesson concerns teamwork. There are a lot of illustrations that show that elephants sometimes produce more teamwork than human beings.
Cambridge University scientists took 12 elephants from the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. They put them in pairs and gave each partner one end of a rope. The middle of the rope was attached by pulleys to food that was out of reach. The elephants quickly learned that, in order to retrieve the snack, both ends had to be tugged at the same time. Beyond that, they demonstrated an understanding of their partners’ role. When an elephant would be sent to the apparatus alone, she would wait up to 45 seconds for help to arrive – which was a long time by the standards of a hungry elephant. If no partner came, or if only one end of the rope was available, the elephants didn’t bother trying at all.
This little exercise demonstrated how smart elephants are and how quickly they learn to work together to achieve results.
The elephant in the room in a lot of organizations is the inability of people to learn and work together. The Bible addresses that elephant in the room. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.” Proverbs 27:17 reads, “As iron sharpens iron so a friend sharpens a friend.” Paul reminded the Corinthians that the one who plants the seed, and the one who waters it work together with the same purpose. But it is God who causes it to grow. (I Corinthians 3:6)
Many of us need to quit growing like elephants in size and grow more like elephants in learning and cooperating.