Sharing the lessons along the way…

Six Blind Men and an Elephant


"Blind monks examining an elephant" ...

“Blind monks examining an elephant” by Itcho Hanabusa. LOC description: Ukiyo-e print illustration from Buddhist parable showing blind monks examining an elephant. Each man reaches a different conclusion based on which part of the elephant he has examined. 1 print : woodcut, color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was reminded yesterday of the story of the six blind men and the elephant.  Each of the men feels on a different part of the elephant and later compared notes. 

In some versions of the story, they disagree on what they have perceived because each of them felt only a small part of the whole of the elephant.  Conflict ensues as a result of their limited experiences and insistence on being right. 

In another version of the story, the men realized that such vast differences in opinion must mean they are missing something.  Rather than dispute who was right or wrong, they decided to work cooperatively to put the pieces each of them have of the puzzle together.  They figured out it was an elephant.

Can you guess which version of the story I tend to prefer? 

Neuroscience tells us without question that we each process our external environment differently.  How we process it is based on our internal environment, our past experiences and how we have encoded/processed those past experiences into our memories. 

To offer an example of this, try discussing what you take away from a movie with a friend.  It is the same movie (external reality), but each of you relate to and respond to something different because of the differences in how you processed the information (internal reality).

Since all of our perceptions are based on our limited experiences of our own version of reality, do we not have a choice as to whether we initiate conflict or cooperative efforts once we understand this?

I believe we do.  I also believe that we aren’t always aware that we do have this choice.  As humans, we tend to overestimate our “rightness” and others’ “wrongness.”  As we do this, by nature, we create conflict, duality and division.  If we were aware of our human tendencies, we could skip the conflict part and move on to the cooperating part.

What if we chose to be the blind men who worked collaboratively to envision the bigger picture?  Imagine the problem solving power of six individuals sharing their perceptions of potential solutions. 

Don’t think it is possible?  I believe it is more than possible because I already see it with my students, my clients, my friends and in my community.  But it starts with a little bit of awareness and a decision to work together.

 

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Comments on: "Six Blind Men and an Elephant" (5)

  1. Yes, we process experience differently…yet connected, neurologically, by the effect of mirror neurons. When I see you perform an action, or ever read about it, there’s a reaction in my brain that is identical to the neural response that’s triggered when *I* perform the action. I blogged about these mirror neurons and their role in writing. (http://theresalwaysadog.blogspot.com/2011/07/1940-four-teenagers-and-dog-named.html)

    Your post also reminds me of Good Ol’ B.F. Skinner’s notion that the mind of another is unknowable; that we can only observe behavior.

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    • I love neuroscience and these mirror neurons certainly play a role in how our brain responds to what we see. They also may be important in our ability to have higher levels of empathy, although the jury is still out of that. I will check out your blog!

      eh, Skinner…neuroscience has blown past his theories–our brains perceive intentions of others (although we aren’t always consciously aware of it) and a myriad of other “unconscious behaviors” that Skinner would turn his nose up at! 😉

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  2. Great aspirational goal! One we should always work to achieve!

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  3. so true but difficult to achieve!!! positive thinking always!

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