The Blind Man and the Elephant

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We often hear people refer to the blind men who encounter an elephant and develop very different perceptions of what an elephant looks like, based on their experience. This story offers a helpful way for us to understand how our experiences can lead us to conclusions different from those of people who we believe are having the same experience, but, in reality, are forming different perceptions (tweet this).

Interestingly, the original poem The Blind Men and the Elephant was written almost a century and a half ago by John Godfrey Saxe. Obviously, the challenge of developing shared understanding and reaching common conclusions has confronted people for a very long time. However, in today’s complex, rapidly changing world, the challenge is even greater and the need even more compelling.

You might find the original poem to be helpful when working with groups or attempting to explain the relationship between our experiences and our perceptions. Therefore, we are including the poem in its entirety for your use.

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The Blind Men and the Elephant

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.

 

The First approached the Elephant, and happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but the Elephant is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk, cried, “Ho! what have we here?”

So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant is very like a spear!”

 

The Third approached the animal, and happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands, thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant is very like a snake!”

 

The Fourth reached out his eager hand, and felt about the knee.

“What most this wondrous beast is like is mighty plain.” quoth he: “Tis clear enough the

Elephant is very like a tree.”

 

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most; deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant is very like a fan!”

 

The Sixth no sooner had begun about the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail that fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant is very like a rope!”

 

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right and all were in the wrong.

 

By John Godfrey Saxe, 1865

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