25 June, 2009

Blind Men and the Elephant

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

 - American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)


Nearly a week after a meeting I attended, I had the chance to chat with another who sat through the same meeting.  It didn’t take long for each of us to realize that, to listen to either of us, one would think we had been in two different meetings rather than the same. 

Curious, no?

I immediately thought of this poem – the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant and the lesson it is meant to teach. 

We each rely upon our own senses, experiences, and perceptions.  Thus, despite feeling the same animal or sitting in the same meeting, our perceptions and what we take away from the experiences can be vastly different.  As they were for the two of us.  Neither of us was more right than the other; neither more wrong.  We simply perceived and heard different things. 

In many cases, our differing perceptions and understandings don’t register.  The divergent thoughts are insignificant or carry no impact on the relationship or the world.  This can not be said in every situation. 

Often we view a situation through an intentional scope or a specific experience, belief, or lens.  We have something we seek or desire; we want a specific out come.  The information received often is filtered such that it supports our position or, in some cases, it is the information that doesn’t support tour position which allows us to strengthen our own beliefs. 

Other times we engage no filter.  We choose to open our hearts and our minds to the information that is offered.  The desire is to hear and absorb – or even to fully experience the moment. 

Still others, perhaps there is no lens, but our other senses are in control – the sense of smell is heightened.  Our ability to note detail is that much sharper.  The words spoken don’t register to the extent that the surrounding environment might. 

Each contributes to our understanding and experience.  Each would allow two people in the same meeting to hear and understand very different things. 

I would love to have a more complete understanding of that meeting; a more accurate view of what was experienced and what was taken from the conversations and the interplay.  It would be nice to have a bird’s eye view rather than the one seen through the lenses of our senses and experiences.  I can try to see that differing perspective, but the success of such an exercise is tenuous.  I have not walked in those shoes, lived those experiences, nor do I fully understand the filters used. 

This poses great complications when the issues and challenges involved must be addressed and worked through by all parties. 

I ended the conversation feeling as if I had just left an episode of the Twilight Zone.  It was surreal.  I remember our both being there.  I remember the questions posed and the answers given.  Yet, my experience seemed to exist in direct opposition to that of the other meeting attendee. 

We were like two blind men feeling the elephant.  




dadshouse said...

Great post! First, it reminds me of corporate America. Meetings can be like that. Second, everything you wrote about us each bringing our own perspective to a situation or whatever we are taking in - your insights are spot on.

Mariposa said...

That is fascinating and insightful. I have lately noticed more of that incongruence of interpretation; I try to learn more from what I cannot see instead of, as in my youth, agonizing over why someone can't see something according to MY (self-centered) point of view.

Echoing Dadshouse, great post!

Mark said...

Amazing how our perceptions can change or in fact create our reality. I always love this poem about the blind men and the elephant.

KennethSF said...

I don't think your perception of that meeting was the direct opposite of your colleague's. It's just incomplete, just like his, just like the perception of each of the blind man in the fable.

The recommended approach is to gather input and feedback from all the blind men (or women, as the case may be) so that, as a team, you can collectively arrive at a more accurate assessment of the beast.