Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The Blind Men and the Elephant

by John Godfrey Saxe

It was six men of Hindustan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind)

That each by observation

Might satisfy the mind.

The first approached the Elephant

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side

At once began to bawl:

"Bless me, it seems the Elephant

Is very like a wall".

The second, feeling of his 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,

Then boldly up and spake:

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a snake."

The Fourth reached out an 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 ElephantIs 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 Hindustan

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.

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 them has seen!

It is so easy to do this—with elephants, with principles, with people with disabilities and with each other.

Don’t! No matter what portion of a person you are addressing at a given moment always remember that that it is unlikely that you have a grasp of their entire reality—and this goes for all of us.

Everyone has deficits and strengths, needs to be filled and gifts to contribute, fine motor and gross motor, physical and mental and social and emotional and spiritual components, qualities we can quantify and qualities we cannot.

And if ever we can’t imagine a broader, deeper possibility for all folks we encounter, we must recognize that the problem is our perception, not their reality.

Find the poem here, and the picture here.


Lilly said...

The analogy of the blind man and the elephant reminds me of the
individuals responsible for implimenting my childs education plan.

Too narrow a perspective of the little picture, leads to blindness of the overall picture.

We need both, like the old fashioned telescope.....going back and forth....big picture, little picture, big picture

Terri said...

Lilly, I agree. While 'ropishness' is part of the elephant's nature there is danger in treating an elephant as if it's a rope--you wouldn't feed it for one thing.

We do indeed need both the big and little picture! The telescope is a good analogy. Thank you for your comment!