Photographing the giraffes today reminded me of the time I saw a baby one born, watching with my hand fearfully over my mouth as this creature with legs that looked as though they would snap with the tiniest of pressure fell a full six feet from its mother’s womb and landed on its back.
The infant giraffe rolled over and within seconds it was tucking its legs under its body, shaking off what remained of the birthing fluids and surveying the world around it.
But it wasn’t allowed to settle.
The mother bent her long neck down, took a very quick look at her new child and then positioned herself directly over the calf. She waited until her child had registered that she was there and then swung one long, pendulous leg forward and gave her baby a forceful kick, sending it sprawling head over heels.
The surprised calf didn’t get up, but just lay where it had landed. So the mother kicked it again. Still the stunned calf didn’t move. Again and again the mother kicked her unmoving calf. The small body was growing tired, but eventually tried to muster strength to rise and move away from the violence. It pushed its body half way and then stumbled. The mother kicked it again. The calf finally stood for the first time, on very wobbly legs.
There were a few moments grace and then the mother did an astonishing thing. She kicked the legs from under it again, sending the calf sprawling.
Why did she go through this seemingly cruel ritual?
Because she wanted it to remember how it got up.
In their natural habitat, baby giraffes must be able to get up as quickly as the others in the herd. If they are too slow, not only are they in danger, but they hold back the others, putting the safety of the whole herd at risk. Lions, leopards, hyenas and wild hunting dogs all enjoy young giraffes to eat, so it is imperative that the mother teaches her calf how to act independently, get up quickly and get on with what is needed to survive.
There is a common thread that runs through the lives of many great visionaries, artists and exceptional leaders. Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Malala Yousafzai, Franklyn Roosevelt, Victor Frankl, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela and James Dyson all had it. They all had obstacles to overcome, were beaten down, knocked over by the kick of circumstances, vilified and appeared to be getting nowhere for many years. But, just like that baby giraffe, they found a meaning in the adversity, got up from it and learned how to use it to their advantage.
When we face challenges, we can’t just look at how it is limiting us, but how it changes us and we can decide whether that change is going to be for the better or for the worse. Those who survive and out-run the herd are the ones who are focused on their objective and determined to improve their strength and stamina in the process. Our weakest moments are opportunities and every obstacle or failure is simply another step on the road to success.