When Elephant Fight, it is the Grass that Suffers
Once upon a time, there were two ill-tempered elephants who lived in the jungle. They were the only two elephants in the jungle, both male and bristling with animosity and competitiveness. In this jungle, there were no tigers, no lions. These elephants were undoubtedly kings of this jungle, ruling capriciously and selfishly. Though they were ill-tempered, they got by without major conflicts most of the time. They shared the watering hole, played with the other animals, and sometimes even worked together to chase out poachers. But every so often, they would get into a fight.
There was no good reason for them to get into a fight, except for gaining the title as the most powerful, or perhaps the only, elephant in the jungle. The jungle was certainly big enough for both the elephants, and more than enough food to go around. No one else contested their superiority; after all, these were elephants and what could a crow with all his wiles or a wolf with all her teeth do? But even then, they would fight every few years.
In this story, they are fighting over a contested patch of delicate grass. Now, though they shared the jungle, they had arbitrary patches of grass that they claimed here and there. Some forested areas firmly belonged to one, and the other wouldn’t dare trespass. Other territories were completely common, such as the watering holes, or the cliff that looked out towards the ocean. There was nothing special about this patch of grass. It just existed like all the other flora in the forest, doing its best to enjoy the sun amidst the tall trees.
But one day, one elephant decided to make the grass his. These were elephants after all, so he didn’t put up a sign saying that he claimed the territory for him. No, all he did was move some of his favourite white rocks onto the patch of grass. The other elephant did not like the white rocks. It would probably be more accurate to say that he despised white rocks and loved black rocks, whereas the other elephant felt the opposite way. Of course, the pile of rocks was mostly harmless, unless the other elephant accidentally stepped on them. But both elephants knew what message was being sent when one put a pile of their favourite rocks on a hotly contested territory.
So, the elephant who liked black rocks stomped over and roughly removed the white rocks. Of course, the elephant who had put them there didn’t take too kindly to this. Elephants aren’t built for fighting, but when they fight, it is still a tremendously terrifying sight. They stomp about, blowing their trunks at one another. They glare at each other and shake their heads, feigning a charge. They whisper vile things about one another to every other animal who will listen. But they never locked tusks. They never bumped one another. They didn’t even do so much as throw rocks at one another. After all, elephants weren’t meant to fight, especially against something that could really hurt them. And they were elephants, and it was just a patch of grass. It was no one’s fault. Eventually, they got bored and decided to move on. Though elephants never forget, they stopped caring about the patch of grass.
But the patch of grass couldn’t move on. In fact, it was hardly a patch of grass anymore. All that was left of the once delicate green blades, pushing up from the undergrowth, was a muddy clearing in the forest, earth compacted by large footprints. It would be a while if anything could grow there again, if at all. In the end, despite it being the elephant’s arbitrary fight, it was the grass which suffered. Of course, this isn’t the whole story, but they are the undisputed facts of it.
Perhaps the patch of grass historically had black rocks littered across it, and the grass was closer to that elephant’s grazing fields. He was content to let the grass sit as a neutral territory so long as it stayed that way, but he viewed the emergence of white rocks on the grass as a step too far. Perhaps this elephant had warned the other one many times that the presence of black rocks on the patch of grass was wholly unacceptable. Perhaps this elephant felt justified in stomping all over the grass, and pushing the offending rocks away, taking some of the grass with it. Whose fault would it be in this case?
We could also suspend our disbelief for a moment and learn of the sentience of this grass. This magical grass could not only feel but could also talk to elephants. Now, this would immediately make the actions of either elephant much more reprehensible, to carelessly fight for their egos while destroying a magical patch of grass. But let’s say the patch of grass decided that they liked white rocks. They thought white rocks were prettier. How they came to this conclusion is beside the point. Perhaps one elephant spent a lot of time lauding the superiority of white rocks, when the other elephant wasn’t paying attention. Perhaps the patch of grass had poor historical experiences with the black rocks when they shared a history. Would it be the fault of the elephant who likes white rocks? Or would it be the fault of the one who likes black rocks?
What if we further suspend our disbelief and assume that there was an even deeper level of communication between the grass and the elephants? What if the elephant who liked black rocks could expressly threaten the grass against allowing the other elephant to place white rocks on the patch of grass? What if there was a single blade of grass that was chosen to be the spokesperson for the patch of grass who invited the elephant to put his white rocks on the grass? What if in doing so, there was an implicit agreement that the elephant would defend his white rocks and the patch of grass as well?
Unfortunately, this would be a moot point because a neither a patch of grass nor a blade of grass has a real choice whether an elephant chooses to put rocks on the grass or not. The elephant chose to put rocks on the grass or to remove them without any consideration of the grass itself. Of course, if the grass was sentient, its feelings and wishes should be considered. In an ideal world, it would be respected, and left alone to do as it wishes. Something alive and feeling is not a pawn in the games of elephants. But in the jungle the patch of grass resides, and the law of the jungle it must follow.
And so, despite whatever the elephants say to the other animals of the jungle, it’s only the patch of grass that suffers in their war. Perhaps some of the bovine who grazed there lost a good pasture, and the monkeys who groomed there lost a playground, but none have lost as much as the grass. The moral of this sad story is to not be a patch of grass, but to be an elephant. Neither elephant is completely absolved of blame in this instance. Each are doing what he feels he must, defending his interests against his rival. Perhaps they even feel badly about the whole situation. But the grass shouldn’t be forgotten by the rest of the jungle when they chitter about who won the conflict of the patch of grass or whose fault it was. After all, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.