Tag Archives: blind men and elephant

Perspective: blind men “see” the pachyderm

Perspective: n.  point of view; subjective evaluation of relative significance; frame of reference.

Pachyderm: n. elephant. from the Greek pakhudermos – thick-skinned. Also the symbol for the GOP.

In various versions of this ancient parable from India, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one touches a different part, but only one part, such as the side, the tail, the leg, the tusk. They then compare notes on what they felt, and learn they are in complete disagreement. We understand then that reality may be viewed differently depending upon one’s perspective, and that what seems an absolute truth may only be partially true.

[I’ve written about this story and the word “perspective” before – four years ago as we were getting to know Sarah Palin…]

One of my feng shui clients is a mediator who often deals with warring families. She had one large blank wall in her office for which I had recommended some piece of art that gave her clients a sense of the work they were doing together – perhaps something implying peaceful solutions, the light at the end of the tunnel, problem solving…

Her brilliant idea was to commission a piece of art that illustrated the story of the blind men and the elephant, visually conveying how it’s possible to “see” a problem from one (limited) point of view, and also recognize that other points of view could be equally legitimate.  She found a skillful quilter, Rosie Rhine, who translated the story to fabric:

quiltstory

The story of the blind men and the elephant is extremely flexible. A few months ago New Yorker cartoonist Tom Cheney used it to depict the sorry state of our economy, perhaps from the points of view of different economists, political players or suffering citizens:

perspective

Perspective: blind men feeling up Palin?

Perspective: point of view; subjective evaluation of relative significance; frame of reference.

You know the story of the blind men who are feeling an elephant for the first time: the one who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the man who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a pipe.

Each in his limited way is correct. Each has a perspective based on limited experience. But what would happen if we gave the men a chance to feel every part of the elephant? Their perspectives would be significantly broadened and the accuracy of their interpretation of the elephant significantly increased.

In the case of Sarah Palin, everyone was surprised by McCain’s pick of a VP running mate who was pretty much unknown outside Alaska. At first we were kind of charmed (some were, anyway) by her fresh face and high energy on display at the Republican National Convention.

But as we’ve had more exposure, more opportunities to “feel” her different aspects, most of the thinking public, even some of those stalwarts on the right, like George Will and Kathleen Parker, are deciding that those new aspects (ignorance, incoherence, idiocy) are poor traits in a person who might become second in command of our country.

Unfortunately, there are those whose exposure to the news, to education, to the world, is so limited that they’re still just feeling Palin’s updo and declaring her their kind of gal.

I got an overwhelming response to my post yesterday about Palin’s inability to name a newspaper she reads,  thanks to a link from (of all places!) Fox News, where Mosheh Oinounou wrote a surprisingly critical post on the Couric interview.  From the comments (some of which were so incoherent that I deleted them), it’s obvious that some people made up their minds the minute they first encountered Palin and no amount of evidence to the contrary will affect their perspective.

“She’s a mom like me; that’s all I need to know. Why is the media so hard on her? Why do they keep asking her these trick questions?”

Aaaaagggh.