I am fairly certain that if you have found your way to this blog post, you are familiar with the sense of responsibility to someone you love – a lover, child, pet, maybe even a plant or the birds you feed. Before I describe the last part of the trip, I’d like to share the story about the fox, from St. Exupery’s The Little Prince.
(excerpted from http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/lpfox.html)
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time. “Please–tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . . ”
“What must I do, to tame you? asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . . ”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If for example, you came at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . . ”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour different from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . . ”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added: “Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made a friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.”
And he went back to meet the fox. “Goodbye,” he said. “Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
“It is the time I have wasted for my rose—” said the little prince so he would be sure to remember.
“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . . ”
“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
I love this story because it addresses the way our wildness can coexist with being responsible for others. It is our nature to want to feel free, yet we crave a sense of connection to another, or to a place, or something in nature.
How does this relate to the domestication of elephants in Thailand?
With many of the elephants which have been “tamed” in Thailand, often very cruelly, the taming described by St. Exupery takes on a new meaning. The growth of trust between mahout and elephant can be a beautiful thing, but as far as I know, no wild elephant willingly leaves his or her elephant family to be used by people. There are accounts of orphaned elephants stumbling upon people who then take care of them, but the elephant is ever unpredictable, even when it has been domesticated. There are many babies born in captivity to already-domesticated elephants, and these learn to rely on people for food and water, but are often kept on chains or aware of the pain of the bullhook if they resist a command. Many of these elephants do forms strong bonds with their keepers or their mahouts regardless of the fact that they are mainly owned in order to work. As many people said to me in Thailand, “the elephant gives us so much and we give nothing to the elephant.”
Taking a larger look at the state of most endangered animals today, hoping they will survive against the odds and looking the other way is no longer an option. They are dependent on human beings for their ability to survive in the wild. Their needs from people seem quite concrete. They need people to stop:
- poaching them,
- encroaching on their dwindling habitats
- introducing non-native species which compete for their resources
- polluting the air and the water
- polluting their sonic space with our industrial sound and light
For many of us, news of animal exploitation can cause us to emotionally shut down. What can we do about it, and how does one value one species over another? Where does one put one’s precious and finite time and energy? What about welfare of people, especially those in poverty? How can one person really make a difference? Life can seem too short to dwell on things we can’t do anything about…
Imagine for a moment that your compassion and empathy were highly valued by society as a gift or a talent. Sensitivity and a desire for beauty are two of the most powerful motivators for action, which is why I truly believe that we can never underestimate the power of the arts to alleviate suffering and reawaken the heart.
And before they part, the fox told the little prince this “secret”:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
It seems as if the human condition is one of grasping, reaching, searching, learning to let go and to find harmony within oneself and one’s surroundings. The process of creating short films that explore these themes within different styles and different narratives, using the relationship between elephants and humans as a core starting point, is my way of inspiring compassionate action through awakening the knowledge of the heart. If I can transmit stories that help people see with their hearts what is invisible to the eye, I will feel as if I followed my calling. The people I interviewed did this for me, and inspired me to work hard to share their stories.