About a year ago I heard the parable about the blind men and the elephant for the first time. It struck me as important to remember so I jotted it down and filed it away mentally to revisit another time. Then last weekend I heard it again. So it seems now is the time to revisit it.
Six blind men encounter an elephant, each man feeling a different part of the elephant and describing it to the others: one man touches the tail and asserts the elephant must be like a rope, one man touches the trunk and says the elephant must be like a tree branch, another man touches an ear and claims the elephant must be like a giant fan. The men argue, each fighting to prove his assertion. A traveler passes by and suggests each of the men is correct and that they have all been describing the same elephant.
I love this parable because it gets to the nature of truth, and that generally speaking, there can be many truths to describe the same thing. Perception is tricky that way. But I offer an additional takeaway, an added parable bonus!
When I find myself really trying to get to the bottom of something or pushing up against something (myself usually), unable to breakthrough, it’s likely one or more of these things is going on in my head:
- I am afraid of something
- I am trying to control something
- I am uncomfortable or confused
And how this typically plays out is if I get uncomfortable or confused, I will try to find a way to get un-uncomfortable and un-confused as quickly as possible. This then results in me trying to control variables in my life, unscientifically pulling levers, flipping switches, and pressing buttons (more of this, less of that, more of that, less of this). And if I am trying to control something, I am afraid of something. So, nine times out of ten, it comes back to fear.
But what I so often fail to remember in these situations of discomfort, control, and ultimately, fear is that the “solution” or the “breakthrough” I am so desperately seeking is not likely to come to me in the form of a fully formed elephant. It’s much more likely to be one part rope, maybe one part tree branch, then maybe two parts giant fan, and so on—all fragmented truths about the same thing. But even then I still might not “get it,” and it will take the stranger in the grocery store, or a patient friend, a compelling book, or the cruelest but most effective of all messengers—time, for me to finally realize, Oh, it’s an elephant.
So, yes, as the parable would suggest, there can be many different truths, but I also offer that it is the collection, not just the acknowledgement, of these various truths, this sometimes slow osmosis of truths, that leads to an even greater understanding of ourselves.