CE Insight: 6 Blind Men & An Elephant
Have you ever heard of the old parable of the blind men and the elephant?
It goes like this...
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 approached 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 ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached 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 his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
“‘T is 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,
Than, 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!
Reflecting On The Parable
There are some fun lessons that come to mind from this parable.
1. Communicating Our Experience
Each of us experiences something and gathers information about what we see and feel. Communicating our experience can be important in the bigger picture, but it's also important to be open to the fact that our experience may not be 'the truth' either.
2. The Need to Embrace Uncertainty
This builds off the last, in the parable, the men are concluding from their limited position and only with touch. They become certain from a limited point of view. With the spirit of uncertainty and curiosity comes the desire to inquire. The very act of embracing uncertainty (acknowledging our limited view) creates the conditions for us to communicate with one another from a softer place, gaining more information and moving toward knowing.
When true curiosity is present we aren't seeking to defend or attack someone elses position, we are listening and seeking to understand.
3. Interdisciplinary Collaboration Is Important
We could view this parable in terms of disciplines. Expert training can lead to seeing things in a very specific way, in complex situations, experts can bring forth conflicting conclusions. The need to then integrate these conflicts vs. argue over who is more right is important.
"You have to prove it!"
"No, you have to prove it."
"Nuh-uh, you do!"
This is science today. Instead, we could be saying "Hmm, interesting findings, how could these possibly come together?"
4. Have A Laugh, Keep It Light
We're looking at a ridiculous situation from the outside with this parable, and we can laugh as a result. But it also reveals that when we are IN the situation, it's harder to see the laugh and the limits of our ways.
This parable reminds me to keep life 'light'. That is to say, embrace humility, let the tension go, have fun, be curious, and be playful. We don't need to fight so much about 'our truth.' In the end, it will bring us closer to knowing.
This parable reminds me of the value of the critical thinking and bias course myself and Dr Madhava Setty put together.. which is really a heart centered personal development course in the end. Check it out.
→ Overcoming Bias & Improving Critical Thinking: A course that combines coherent embodiment, mastering self awareness, and critical thinking to help you notice bias in seconds, and think more critically in every area of your life. Join 1,250+ students.
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