An aside on the Republican elephant, emotions and leadership

More could be made of the Republican elephant. It’s a constant presence but they never do anything with it.

It’s a no-go logo.

We can learn a lot from elephants. Even republican ones.

First, Mitt Romney made clear that this general election is all about leadership. America needs ‘Less flexibility and more backbone’. Look no further, then, than Elephantidai Loxodonta (African) and Elephas (Asiatic).

Karen McComb et al (2011) found that among African elephants it is the older, most experienced matriarchs who lead, especially when the social group is confronted by a predatory threat from a male lion. [Only the male lion is a threat to elephants. The females do most of the other hunting.] Most noticeably, the older females learn to listen to the roars of the lions and decipher what they are saying.

Here one naturally thinks of the formidable, white-haired Barbara Bush, the matriarch who led the Republican pack for many a long year and saw off all manner of threats to her sons in short order.

Who, one wonders, is the matriarch in this break-away Romney social group?

There is an evolutionary basis of leadership among animals, including humans, although it is scarcely understood.

Research on humans, McComb et al. argue, suggests that age is correlated with leadership in domains requiring specialized knowledge, and that ‘there is recent evidence that decisions about social conflicts improve with age‘ (p. 1, my emphasis).

Well then, here’s a lesson for candidate Romney-the-Elder, who might use it to his advantage over that nice young man currently occupying the White House.

Second, if there is a more exquisitely emotionally sensitive creature than an elephant I’d like to meet it (although the horse comes close). The elephant is sensitive because it combines mental and physical strength. Noble gentleness. Disciplined power.

Was not the Buddha likened to an elephant?

‘One day, a brahmin found the Buddha sitting under a tree, composed and contemplative.

“His faculties were at rest, his mind was still, and everything about him breathed self-discipline and serenity”.

The sight filled the brahmin with awe. The Buddha reminded him of a tusker elephant: there was the same impression of enormous strength and massive potential brought under control and channeled into a great peace’ (Karen Armstrong, Buddha. Lipper/Penguin. 2001, p. 160)

Yes, Romney should be more elephant-like. That’s not emotional woodenness, America. It’s a nucleus of calm, equanimity, and internal solitude.

Will Republicans have the collective wit to see these associations staring them in the face?


McComb, K et al. 2011. “Leadership in elephants: the adaptive value of age.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278(1722):3270–3276.

One thought on “An aside on the Republican elephant, emotions and leadership

  1. Pingback: Female elephants rescue drowning calf « The Business of Emotions

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