Long ago and far away there were six men, wise indeed, but, alas, they were all without sight. An opinionated lot, every one, in the course of their wanderings, they happened to meet an elephant, standing squarely in the center of their path.
Feeling duty-bound to report on his discovery, the first wise man gripped one of the massive beast’s sharp tusks and declared, “It is stunning how much an elephant resembles a spear.”
The second wise man, equally confident, reached out until his hands connected with one large and floppy ear. “Nay,” he retorted, “you are mistaken, for ‘tis clear to me that elephantine nature is like that of a fan. Already I feel the cooling of air around me as this fine elephant sweeps back and forth.”
The third wise man could no longer hold his peace, for he had meandered off to the rear and found the elephant’s tail. “Neither a spear nor a fan, my brothers, could take this shape or form. Obviously, an elephant is like a rope.”
And so the story proceeds with one sightless hypothesis revolving around the muscular snake-like trunk, another enthusiastic theory about its tree-trunk legs, and a final proclamation that the body mass was surely a broad and impassable wall.
Each was partially right, but all were in the wrong.
Underneath this ancient story’s observation about human nature lies a chilling truth about the perils of logic on this broken ground. To save time and energy in its quest for certainty, the brain will hide its own biases from itself. All the while believing in the thoroughness of our research, we immerse ourselves in evidence that does nothing but confirm our preconceptions.
A minute’s thought will reveal the six wise men had all they needed to correct their narrow perspective: the observations of the other five. A move to the right or to the left, a hand extended to a broader reach, or a question posed to a nearby brother:
“What do you mean, it feels like a rope? Here, put your hand on THIS and see what you think!”
Any of these would have changed the whole story.
Research indicates diverse groups have the ability to reveal hidden biases. What this looks like here on the ground is that if I share my piece of the elephant, while also listening to my sister’s thoughts on elephant morphology, we both get a more accurate view of the beast in question.
This month, we’re sharing our thoughts on The Elephant in the Room over at SheLoves Magazine. I’m thankful for the people in my life who rescue me from the blindness of a singular seeing — who keep me from reenacting the elephant story in my own time. I would love it if you clicked on over to SheLoves to finish reading the rest of my post. And I hope that while you’re there you’ll share your thoughts, because we do need each other’s voices.
Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:
“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”
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