Animal’s Farm (1) – The Cheetah

Stephanie Tolan used the  cheetah metaphor to explain what gifted children can endure.

In fact this will also certainly ring some bells to adults…

For reading the full text, click on the title:  Is this a cheetah ?

Hereafter is an abstract of the text :

[..] A cheetah metaphor can help us see the problem with achievement-oriented thinking. The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth. It’s flashy. It is impressive. It’s unique. And it makes identification incredibly easy. Since cheetahs are the only animals that can run 70 mph, if you clock an animal running 70 mph, IT’S A CHEETAH!

[…]

Despite design and need however, certain conditions are necessary if it is to attain its famous 70 mph top speed. It must be fully grown. It must be healthy, fit and rested. It must have plenty of room to run. Besides that, it is best motivated to run all out when it is hungry and there are antelope to chase.

If a cheetah is confined to a 10 X 12 foot cage, though it may pace or fling itself against the bars in restless frustration, it won’t run 70 mph.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won’t run 70 mph while hunting. Though it might well run on its own for exercise, recreation, fulfillment of its internal drive, when given only rabbits to eat the hunting cheetah will run only fast enough to catch a rabbit.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is fed Zoo Chow it may not run at all.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is sick or if its legs have been broken, it won’t even walk.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

And finally, if the cheetah is only six weeks old, it can’t yet run 70 mph.

IS IT, THEN, ONLY A *POTENTIAL* CHEETAH?

[…]

To lions, tigers, leopards — to any of the other big cats — the cheetah’s biological attributes would seem to be deformities. Far from the “best cat,” the cheetah would seem to be barely a cat at all. Given the cheetah’s tendency to activity, cats who spend most of their time sleeping in the sun might well label the cheetah hyperactive.

[…]

A recent nature documentary about cheetahs in lion country showed a curious fact of life in the wild. Lions kill cheetah cubs. They don’t eat them, they just kill them. In fact, they appear to work rather hard to find them in order to kill them (though cheetahs can’t possibly threaten the continued survival of lions). Is this maliciousness? Recreation? No one knows. We only know that lions do it. Cheetah mothers must hide their dens and go to great efforts to protect their cubs, coming and going from the den under deep cover or only in the dead of night or when lions are far away. Highly gifted children and their families often feel like cheetahs in lion country.

In some schools brilliant children are asked to do what they were never designed to do (like cheetahs asked to tear open a wildebeest hide with their claws — after all, the lions can do it!) while the attributes that are a natural aspect of unusual mental capacity — intensity, passion, high energy, independence, moral reasoning, curiosity, humor, unusual interests and insistence on truth and accuracy — are considered problems that need fixing.

Brilliant children may feel surrounded by lions who make fun of or shun them for their differences, who may even break their legs or drug them to keep them moving more slowly, in time with the lions’ pace. Is it any wonder they would try to escape; would put on a lion suit to keep from being noticed; would fight back?

This metaphor, like any metaphor, eventually breaks down. Highly gifted children don’t have body markings and non-retractable claws by which to be identified when not performing. Furthermore, the cheetah’s ability to run 70 mph is a single trait readily measured. Highly gifted children are very different from each other so there is no single ability to look for even when they are performing; besides that, a child’s greatest gifts could be outside the academic world’s definition of achievement and so go unrecognized altogether. While this truth can save some children from being wantonly killed by marauding lions, it also keeps them from being recognized for what they are — children with deep and powerful innate differences as all-encompassing as the differences between cheetahs and other big cats.

[…]

Biodiversity is a fundamental principle of life on our planet. It allows life to adapt to change. In our culture highly gifted children, like cheetahs, are endangered. Like cheetahs, they are here for a reason; they fill a particular niche in the design of life.

Stephanie Tolan’s web site : http://www.stephanietolan.com

5 thoughts on “Animal’s Farm (1) – The Cheetah

  1. Bonjour,
    J’adore ce genre de métaphore …Combien de guépards dans des cages de 3×4 ?
    Quel gâchis !
    Merci pour cette lumineuse comparaison …

  2. Magnifique comparaison! Un surdoué qui “rate” un test de QI n’est pas moins un surdoué. La sous-performance du surdoué ne s’enracine pas dans un éventuel manque de potentiel mais dans l’absence de condition saine.
    À force d’y penser je pense la sortie de crise pour un surdoué est la prise de conscience de son unicité. Je parle pas de son étiquette de surdoué mais de sa personne (cela vaut donc aussi pour les individus lambas).
    Je suis peut-être un grain de poussière à l’échelle de l’univers, mais je suis un grain de poussière unique. Cela vaut la peine d’exprimer mon individualité, car dans le cas contraire j’appauvris l’univers. En étant fidèle à moi-même, ce que je suis va forcément émerger. Si je suis HP, ma douance va donc forcément faire éruption dans un feu d’artifice sans précédent.
    NB.- Ici “sans précédent” ne veut pas dire “plus que les autres” mais “plutôt original”.

    Merci pour le billet Cécile (une vraie HP!).

    1. Bonjour Jed

      Je suis d’accord avec vous sur la prise de conscience de l’unicité qui vaut pour chacun (surdoué ou pas).
      Fondamentalement, on en revient à la fameuse phrase de St Exupéry : “Frère, ta différence m’enrichit”

      Toute la question vient ensuite de savoir jusqu’à quel point il est accepté par l’environnement que l’on puisse être unique.
      La grégarité fait que ceci n’est accepté que dans une “certaine mesure”.
      Ceci pose la question du standard.

      Je questionne de plus en plus le modèle industriel qui a façonné notre époque et nos mentalités : il a conduit à des logiques de production de masse
      qui ne laissent plus que fort peu de place à la création personnalisée, “originale”.
      Ce qui génère effectivement un appauvrissement énorme.

      Mais je crois aussi que ce modèle a atteint ses limites (les remous et effondrements auxquels nous assistons)
      et que progressivement, l’importance de la richesse de chacun va de nouveau être prise en compte (bon, je reconnais, il vaut mieux être lucide… ça pourra peut-être prendre encore quelques siècles…)

  3. c’est assez génial, cette métaphore mais les lions peuvent-ils la comprendre ?

    c’est génial car il y est question de différence et pas de supériorité

    et que si l’homme (“normal”) se considère le roi de la création, il voit dans le lion le roi des animaux, ça correspond bien

  4. Savoir se reconnaitre guépard et n’être qu’un lion !
    savoir qu’on a un potentiel et trouver les conditions pour le révéler !
    Voilà donc ce que je retiens : savoir être ce que nous devrions être et non pas seulement ce qu’on veut bien nous laisser être.
    Merci beaucoup pour cette traduction.

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