Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday is for Poetry: THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT, a parable to remind us how one perspective can be totally wrong of what is observed

The story of the blind men and an elephant originated in the Indian subcontinent from where it has widely diffused. It has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies; broadly, the parable implies that one's subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth. At various times the parable has provided insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth, the behavior of experts in fields where there is a deficit or inaccessibility of information, the need for communication, and respect for different perspectives.

It is a parable that has crossed between many religious traditions and is part of Jain, Buddhist, Sufi and Hindu lore. The tale later became well-known in Europe, with 19th century, American poet John Godfrey Saxe creating his own version as a poem.  Since then, the story has been published in many books for adults and children, and interpreted in an ever-increasing variety of ways.

One of the most famous versions of the 19th century was the poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by American poet, John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887).

The poem begins:
          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.

They conclude that the elephant is like a wall, snake, spear, tree, fan or rope, depending upon where they touch. They have a heated debate that does not come to physical violence. But in Saxe's version, the conflict is never resolved.


So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
          Not one of the them is seen.

In my opinion, one cannot make an enlightened decision about anyone or anything without all the facts.  Although I often wonder that in the end, we see what we want to see.


Different Strokes for Different Folks, Sly and the Family Stone (1968)


Anonymous said...

I'd forgotten the parable. I so agree Petra. Without all the facts how can you truly know what is the truth.

Hope it's been warmer! Here, it's been frigid. If I step out not dressed properly, in a few minutes I'll get frost bite. Getting stir crazy. K. :(

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hi, K.! I can only imagine. From the images all around the US seems to be much of the same this winter.

Here comes the sun! Here comes the sun! Ommmmmm... ;))