I came to notice that elephants are often used as a metaphor in the various short stories that are in circulation. The short story called The elephant rope that I published recently is an example of that. Today I like to put out another parable. It’s called The blind men and the elephant. May you learn and enjoy this short story with moral lesson!
The blind men and the elephant
It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, —, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approach’d the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” —quoth he— “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” —quoth he,—
“’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said— “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” —quoth he,— “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Author of the Blind men and the elephant: John Godfrey Saxe, 1872 – via wikipedia.
The parable of the blind men and the elephant illustrates how easy it is to be seduced by the “rightness” of our own views. Frequently, when we are in the middle of a situation, it is difficult for us to see the whole picture. Instead, we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the situation, and wonder why other people don’t understand what we consider as truthful.
Consequently, our individual perceptions, which scientist Peter Senge calls “mental models”, influence our practices and can lead to miscommunication and conflict. It’s what is called the Pygmalion effect. This psychological phenomenon implies that your perception is conditioned – your lens to look at the world determines the interpretation of what you see. In other words: what we see, is determined by how we see it – not what is.
I find the Pygmalion effect an interesting phenomenon because it’s basically stating that there is no absolute truth. Ask a group of people to pay attention to the same elephant and everyone will perceive something different and therefore, will find another truth to believe in. In that context everyone is right and no-one is wrong. While there are facts that are obvious and visible, a person’s interpretation of what is going on will often be different from the other.
We can improve our sense of the whole by gathering information about a particular situation from different perspectives. And by being a little bit more listening to others. Consequently I like to use this short story to outline the importance of understanding the whole picture so that we can be proactive about making more robust decisions.
Please share your thoughts of this short story in the comment section below! I like to hear from you.
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