There’s an old Hindu story about some blind wise men that each want to experience what an elephant is.
The man who feels the elephant’s tail thinks the elephant is like a rope.
The man who feels the elephant’s trunk thinks it’s like a snake.
The man who feels the elephant’s leg thinks it’s like a tree.
The man who feels the elephant’s flank thinks it’s like a wall.
The man who feels the elephant’s tusk thinks it’s like a spear.
I can only imagine what the man who ended up with the rear-end thought it was like.
From each of their perspectives, they were right. But none of them understood what an elephant was.
Much of our suffering comes by clinging to our own perception of the way things are and projecting those perceptions on others. It would be easy enough to say that no one’s right or we’re all right, but either statement obscures the fact that we’re all feeling on the same elephant. Sure, it may change with time and the practical infinity of interactions that happen each moment, but the fact that it changes doesn’t mean that there’s no it. (How can something that doesn’t exist change?)
Our perception of the world rarely matches the way things are – and the more we collectively discuss what we’re seeing, the closer we get to seeing the way things are. Unfortunately, that gets us into the sea of social troubles.
In the meantime, as Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Like the elephant, our battles may seem diverse, but we each have (at least) one.
P.S. Many of the battles we end up fighting are the ones we’ve created for ourselves.
Joely Black says
I love the Plato quote. It’s a great reminder that things don’t always revolve around us.
Thank you for another great little post. x
Justin | Mazzastick says
Imagine if we would remember and treat everyone like they are going through their own battles. We often get so consumed in our own lives that we forget others are dealing with challenges as well.
If we would practice the Golden Rule, these issues would not exist!
Russ Henneberry says
Awesome stuff Charlie.
What a great lesson from the Hindu wisemen. I guess each of us has our own version of what is right and what the truth is. We base it on our own life experiences and personality. I suppose the best thing to do is to keep an open mind about what others are perceiving as the truth and what is right.
Thanks for writing this!
I love the elephant parable – I use it a lot in the classes I teach. One more bit to consider: even if we are not blind, we must still be compassionate with ourselves. Because no matter how hard we try, no matter where we stand, we will never be able to see the whole elephant at one time.
I wonder if anyone felt the elephant’s rear end and thought it was a cupcake?
*chooses to only see cupcakes in life*
I’m goofing off here but seriously, great article Charlie.