The Blind Men and the Elephant

Published on April 30, 2021

blind elephant

The Blind Men and the Elephant

There is a very old fable that has been told and retold across many centuries and in many cultures. The most common retelling of the story locates it in India. It describes how a group of six blind men visited the Rajah’s palace and encountered an elephant for the first time. As each of the group touched the animal with his hands, he announced his discoveries.

The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. “How smooth! An elephant is like a wall.” The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. “How round! An elephant is like a snake.” The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. “How sharp! An elephant is like a spear.” The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. “How tall! An elephant is like a tree.” The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. “How wide! An elephant is like a fan.” The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. “How thin! An elephant is like a rope.”

An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was the correct one. The Rajah, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony. “The elephant is a big animal,” he said. “Each man touched only one part. You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like.”

Enlightened by the Rajah’s wisdom, the blind men reached agreement. “Each one of us knows only a part. To find out the whole truth we must put all the parts together.”*

There are so many lessons that can be learned from this story, and—like the blind men themselves—we would do well to go beyond our own individual perspectives and experiences in seeking to understand their meaning.

Notice that every perspective is considered. Even the Rajah—who recognizes the limits of the perspectives of the six blind men—does not present himself as having wisdom about elephants; instead, he invites them to bring their perspectives together to find out the whole truth. It is wisdom indeed to begin by listening to every voice in the pursuit of truth and clarity.

This spirit of inquiry is best matched with an attitude of open-mindedness. Being receptive to the viewpoints and contributions of others creates opportunities where deeper understanding can be realized and unity can be achieved.

By seeking out the strengths that each individual brings to our Adventist HealthCare team, we experience relationships built on strength and shared purpose. “All of us” is better than “one of us.” In the end, effectiveness in fulfilling our Mission of extending God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental, and spiritual healing requires the best of each of us and the shared participation of all of us.

 

*Lillian Quigley, The Blind Men and the Elephant (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959).

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