The blind men and the elephant – A story that portrays the situation of having differing views

In life, it is inevitable that we have to interact with people who have differing views on issues that we had not encountered before. This post documents a parable, the blind men and the elephant, that describes such situations in an interesting way. I also include some of my afterthoughts to hearing this story.

The story

Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, "Hey, there is an elephant in the village today."

They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, "Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway."

All of them went to where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant.

"Hey, the elephant is a pillar," said the first man who touched his leg.

"Oh, no! it is like a rope," said the second man who touched the tail.

"Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree," said the third man who
touched the trunk of the elephant.

"It is like a big hand fan," said the fourth man who touched the ear of
the elephant.

"It is like a huge wall," said the fifth man who touched the belly of the
elephant.

"It is like a solid pipe," said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the
elephant.

They began to argue about the elephant and every one of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, "What is the matter?"

They said, "We cannot agree to what the elephant is like."

Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, "All of you are right. The reason everyone of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched a different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said."

"Oh!" everyone said. There was no more fight. They felt happy that they were all right.

Some afterthoughts to hearing this story

From the story of the blind men and the elephant, I generate some afterthoughts that I feel can help me be more efficient in collaborating with others.

The willingness to explore extends our knowledge of the universe

In the story, all the blind men are willing to go understand the elephant despite their visual impairments. Hence, they earned themselves the chance to understand something that they had never encountered before.

Akin to the blindness of the men in the story, there can be many obstacles for us to gain new knowledge. If we allow those obstacles to stop us for moving forward, we will remain blind to many of the amazing things that we had never experienced.

The wise man can represent our self-awareness of the fact that we often do not know it all

The empty vessel makes the loudest noise; the loudest in the discussion group are often those who do not have full understanding of the topic. In the story, the blind men listened to the wise man as he spoke to them. That enabled them to stop making a fool of themselves to people who can see the elephant.

This can be seen as the self-initiation of listening to our inner voice of humility that there is a world out there that is much bigger than us.

The blind will remain blind if he/she does not recognise that his/her lack of knowledge is obstructing his/her view of the bigger picture

In the story, all the blind men accepted the feedback from the wise man and was able to "see" the elephant in its entirety.

However, if they chose to be ignorant of the feedback from the wise man, they would have a much narrower view of the elephant.

In life, prior to understanding a certain topic, we tend to be blind to things that we have not seen yet. If we seek to have a better understanding of the topic, we ought to practice empathy to feel the elephant from the perspective of people who are willing to share their perspectives of the topic with us. If we held on too tightly to our own perspectives, we deprive ourselves from learning from people who can help shape our perspectives into better ones.

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About Clivant

Clivant a.k.a Chai Heng enjoys composing software and building systems to serve people. He owns techcoil.com and hopes that whatever he had written and built so far had benefited people.

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