The ancient fable of the blind men and the elephant tells us about six blind men who visit the palace of the king and encounter an elephant for the first time. As each touches the animal with his hands, he announces his discoveries.
The first blind man put out his hand and touched the side of the elephant. “How smooth! An elephant is like a wall.” The second blind man put out his hand and touched the trunk of the elephant. “How round! An elephant is like a snake.” The third blind man put out his hand and touched the tusk of the elephant. “How sharp! An elephant is like a spear.” The fourth blind man put out his hand and touched the leg of the elephant. “How tall! An elephant is like a tree.” The fifth blind man reached out his hand and touched the ear of the elephant. “How wide! An elephant is like a fan.” The sixth blind man put out his hand and touched the tail of the elephant. “How thin! An elephant is like a rope.”
An argument ensued, each blind man thinking his own perception of the elephant was the correct one. The king, awakened by the commotion, called out from the balcony, “The elephant is a big animal! Each man touched only one part. You must put all the parts together to find out what an elephant is like.”
Enlightened by the king’s wisdom, the blind men reached an agreement. “Each one of us knows only a part. To find out the whole truth we must put all the parts together.”
Why did the blind men have a problem arguing and contradicting each other in the story? The answer becomes obvious when you take on this challenge to ask yourself, “Where would I be in the story? When I apply this parable to the issue of truth, am I like one of the blind men or am I like the king?”
This is the dilemma: If the storyteller is like one of the six who can’t see — if he is one of the blind men groping around —how does he know everyone else is blind and has only a portion of the truth? On the other hand, if he fancies himself to be in the position of the king, how is it that he alone escapes the illusion that blinds the rest of us?
“How similar this is to some of today’s experts holding various views, but they are blind and unseeing, and in their own unawareness are by nature quarrelsome, disputing, and disputatious, each maintaining their own definition and description of what is truth.”
If everyone truly is blind, then no one can know if he or anyone else is mistaken. Only someone who is not blind and who sees the whole picture can identify those being exposed to deceptions. In this story, only the king is capable “of” seeing the truth—no one else.
This parable of the six blind men and the elephant is ironically a very accurate picture, describing the current state of our own mental limitations. Unfortunately, the rapid rise of information has not led to a parallel increase in true wisdom, which shows that we are often like the blind men, fumbling around in the world searching for answers to life’s deepest questions. From time to time, we seem to stumble upon some gems of truth, but we’re often confused and mistaken, as the blind men were.
How do I know this? Because the King has spoken. He is genuine, teaching us, pointing us to our mistakes, and correcting our error. The real question is…
Will we listen?