The Best Way to Eat an Elephant

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems." 

Mahatma Gandhi

An old friend of mine has been on a kick to get me to watch a documentary for a while now. It is one of those situations where someone you love and respect is super passionate about something and is trying like crazy to get you to be into it as well; but, for some reason you just cant seem to take the leap. Maybe you don’t have the time, maybe you’re not interested in the idea or material, or maybe like me, you’re afraid that if it is REALLY as amazing and moving and life changing as they say, it could seriously mess with the statues quo. Well, to make a short story even shorter, a few weeks later I got a visit from the Fed-Ex guy with an unmarked cardboard box containing a copy of the film.

So I watched it.

And now my comfortable status quo has been significantly bitch-slapped.

The film is called “I AM” and it is the passion project of Hollywood Director Tom Shadyac. You might not recognize the name right away, but I’m sure you’ve heard of his other films; Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, and Patch Adams. There are others, but I’m sure you get the point by now.  The film is a look at how Tom came to a realization (literally by being hit on the head) that there must be more to life then simply chasing money and fame and that the value of competition and success is over-rated. He set out to ask and have great minds answer the questions “what’s wrong with the world” and “what can we do about it”. What he came away with was a unique picture of how we are all connected physically, spiritually, and socially and we are at our best when we focus on the bonds that unite us like compassion, empathy, community and love.

Needless to say, the voices in this film resonated with my soul!  It is validations to all of us who truly believe that humanity is worth saving, that we were made for so much more then to pull in a paycheck, drive a hybrid, or have our kids score the winning goal. It is a reminder that we are intrinsically connected to the person sitting next to us in the coffee shop or on the bus, and that in one way or another we are all broken and hurting…. even if we’re convinced that “everything is fine”.

Ok…so let me just stop right here for a minute, I heard that! Yeah, creepy right? But I can hear your thoughts as I’m typing this…

“Thanks erik…glad you liked the documentary from the guy who made Jim Carry talk out of his ass…and your thoughts are nice and all, but let’s be real…

…this is the way the world is and nothing is ever going to change.”

Well, dear friend, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the change has already begun and all the bitterness, cynicism and apathy in the world can’t stop it!  Things can change, people can change, hearts can change. I’ve seen it! Granted I’ve had to climb over a pile of 24hour news channels and violent and abusive economic practices but it’s there and it’s not some utopian, new age, pie-in-the-sky ideal. It’s the very beating of the human heart. It’s in the air that we take into our lungs that fuels us and causes us to take our next step. No this change won’t and shouldn’t happen over night. It happens slowly one person, one breath, one heartbeat at a time.

It happens whenever you or I put the needs of someone else in front of our own needs.  It happens when we realize that the words that come out of our mouths have the power to both create and destroy. It happens when we do one small thing, and the person next to us does one small thing, and the person next to them does one small thing, and so on and so on.

It’s all about doing those small simple things each day that are focused outwards, little unselfish sacrificial acts that remind us and others that we are connected and responsible for each other.

It’s been over two thousand years since Jesus boiled down religion to two simple concepts ‘love god, and love others’ and people are still confused about what that means. We convince ourselves that it’s not that easy so we construct these conditions for the love. Our faith has become a product or a brand like Apple or Nike and we cling to the identity of that brand and look down our noses at other consumers whose faith brand is different than ours. In so doing, we take the simple message of loving others and corrupt it with guidelines, instructions, and rules. Then, we wonder why it’s so hard to make a difference…it’s because we’ve never allowed ourselves to be different!

When we look at the problems out there, not just in the world, but also in our own backyards and in our own families it can be overwhelming.  It’s kind of like pushing a Buick to the top of Mount Everest with a broken foot. The issues out there are mammoth!

In the film, the Bishop Desmond Tutu is commenting on the idea of change and he asks:

“How does one go about eating an elephant?”

and after a pause…

“you eat it one bite at a time.”

I like that, it’s a clever take on the whole “drop in the bucket” idea. Plus it speaks to the desire I have always had to bite an elephant…come on, like you’ve never thought about it.


For those of you that are out there, like me, who are passionate about sharing hope, peace and unconditional love…

For those of us who believe that acceptance is more powerful than hate and that simple tolerance isn’t enough…

For those of us that value honesty and authenticity over “the right answer”…

For those of us who get a kick out of smiling at strangers, anonymously doing stuff for other people, and saying yes, when we really want to say no…

For those of us that day after day, sit down at the table, tie a napkin around our neck and proceed to masticate that pachyderm, there is hope!

You see the secret to this daunting task of making the world a better place is that we don’t have to do it alone. There are pockets of change everywhere. There is a palpable and significant shift happening today, elephant eating dinner parties are happening in churches, synagogues, mosques, schools, homes and businesses all over the world. Places where people are methodically, passionately, and intentionally discussing and practicing love.

Sure this shift is small and seemingly insignificant, but what’s the other option? Do nothing? Time to pull out the Edmund Burke…

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Another word for this is denial, which is the active turning away from an issue that is staring us right in the face. It’s making a concise decision to do nothing. It doesn’t take a Historian to see how denial has panned out over the years…. Slavery, Nazi Germany, Women’s equality, the Civil Rights movement all had people who turned away and ignored the problem or actively denied the problem existed. But, then there came a shift in thought and people who were willing to take small steps of love, compassion and justice, which would help to change those things. Are these issues still around today? Sure, but they are now viewed by the majority in the proper context.

So to those that struggle with the idea that things cannot change, that this is the way the world is and that it will always be this way until either the Zombie Apocalypse or the Second Coming of Christ, I simply say to you, with all the love in my heart:

I’m sorry, and you should probably cover your head because the shift is about to hit the fan.

- Erik Ewing is a Team Member of The Authenticity Project and Director of the Definition Collective.

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