Sunday, October 20, 2013

'Been There, 'Stand Here, 'See That


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 Third … And happening to take
The squirmy trunk… Thus boldly spoke up and spake:
“…Is very like a SNAKE!”

 …The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell …is very like a FAN!”

…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!

 (The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe (1816 – 1887))

This is an abridged version of this poem, but I have tried to leave some vital details. I learnt it way back in my elementary days, but recent happenings have brought to mind its major lesson. And this has helped me see some issues a bit differently.

Now these ‘blind’ men were in fact using all they had basically to understand the ‘wonder’ they had come to meet. Each one interpreting from their experience based on where they stood and what they touched.

My assumption is that if they all changed positions, they might still say similar things (maybe not exact), to what the previous man had said. So instead of ‘snake’, maybe another blind man would have said ‘hose’ or even ‘rope’. The previous experiences they have had (the turns of life faced, perhaps even personal discovery from victories and failures) shaped each one’s perception leading to those final conclusions.
We all go through life facing issues and getting to hear what others go through. How we perceive those situations, how we judge and also react is tied to our personalities and what has made us who we are (experiences and exposure).

My take from this is that to a big extent, all views and opinions are relatively fair. This realization could actually help us handle issues, especially those involving people a little more differently. In actual fact our different personalities, upbringing, knowledge gained, association and exposure are continually driving how we see. Changes in these also modify our perception too, that is why we are continually changing. It is also why we may not be right all of the time. I could say my town is the largest place on earth, till I stand at the top of the Empire State building (102 floor bldg. in New York) and look at the view from there. However, like the last stanza put their views… albeit subtly fair, not necessarily right.

This does not essentially mean we should leave others in their ‘wrong’ since they may just be seeing or experiencing a small part of the bigger picture. The focus when desiring to help should be to change what we can. Their past and personalities are beyond us, but we can help them adjust even if just a bit from where they stand. We may need to patiently take them round to feel more parts of the elephant, get the bigger picture to respond even more appropriately. Personally, I also try to pray, because it could be tough. So when next someone says ‘really that cup is half empty’, pause and remember this poem before you decide how to respond.

The other challenge is ourselves. We need to make sure we are humble and open to allowing others help us see from a different angle, to share from what they have experienced, or the superior information they have on that issue before we respond or conclude. We need to be flexible to shift from where we stand to where we can get a clearer view and have a better opinion. And probably instead of those individual parts emphasized in the poem, we’ll say, the elephant is all of these indeed.