10 Blind Men and the Elephant

By michelle, 6 December, 2023
10 Blind Men and the Elephant

From my Chasing Dragons | Hiding in Caves Substack.

I originally penned this essay back in 2018. That seems like such a long time ago. Pre-pandemic…I guess it really was a different world then. But the fable of the 10 Blind Men and the Elephant is timeless and, in the ever-increasing disruption of social media, perhaps never more important to talk about. Perspective. Let’s discuss the elephant in the room.

There is an old story about 10 blind men and an elephant.  Each man is holding or touching a different part of the elephant.  One is touching its leg, another the tail, still another the trunk, another the ear, another the side, etc.  You get the idea.  As they individually begin to describe what they are feeling, they realize they each have very distinct and different opinions.  One is convinced it is like a snake (the trunk), one is certain it is solid like a tree (the leg), one considers it a very large, waving leaf (the ear), one believes it is nothing more than a rope (the tail), and so on.  They argue into the night, none deviating from their opinion and none the wiser by dawn.

This reminds me so much of people describing God.  We are each given access to an aspect of God, I believe.  We know in part…we see dimly.  Even when we understand our limitations—that we only know in part—we can feel so absolutely certain of our perspective . . . and equally certain that another’s differing description or experience must therefore be “wrong”.

So here is what I see.  We are like the 10 blind men touching an elephant.  We will never reach an agreement on its description when we are only allowed to believe that our personal experience is the sole basis of an elephant’s description.  That what we can feel with our senses is the only reality.  Because no matter how much I am argued with, no one is going to change my mind about my own experience.  If I were touching an elephant’s tail, it would be long, wispy, thin, random in movement, non-threatening, and probably a bit inconsequential.  But for me to describe the leg or the trunk or the tusk with those same adjectives would not only be inaccurate, it would be incredibly insulting to the person holding said leg, trunk, or tusk.  One of us would clearly be delusional if not downright stupid.  Label it “Fake News”!  And there would never, ever, be any agreement or unity on what this “thing” was that we were holding.  This sounds like many a social media debate, does it not?

Elephant and the blindfold

However, let’s suppose someone is intentionally removed from the debate.  They are tasked with harnessing everyone’s descriptions and drawing a picture, much like a courtroom sketch artist.  Suddenly, not only does a more accurate picture emerge, but we can all become united as we realize we are all describing the same thing, just a different aspect of it.  Not only does it remove the antagonism I feel towards the leg person (remember, I’m still holding the tail), but I now become more intrigued to learn about what they are holding.  I’m not competing with them.  I’m complementing them.  Together we are completing the picture.  And in this completion, there is absolute unity.

At least, that’s what I think…