The Blind Men and an Elephant

Of all the parables, this one’s my favourite!

A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.


The moral is that we humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth despite our limited, subjective experience while ignoring other people’s equally limited and subjective experience, which may be true for them.

As someone making multiple decisions everyday, this parable resonates with me. But the big question is this — regardless of who we are or what we do, how the heck are we to make responsible decisions with our limited and subjective experience? Thankfully, we have the curiosity and agency to explore, investigate, and strive to know the whole truth.

And if we’re patient enough, we can go beneath the surface to find what’s really going on. Because that’s what enables a coach to provide a breakthrough to his clients, a leader to serve his team and organisation at large, and a sales professional to provide just the right solution to his prospects.

Never take anything at face value as there’s (almost) always something more to be explored and dug deeper.

P.S. In one of Sam Gross’ books, the title cartoon has one of the blind men encountering a pile of elephant crap and concludes that “An elephant is soft and mushy.”

P.P.S. Another elephant joke inverts the story:

Six blind elephants were discussing what men were like. After arguing they decided to find one and determine what it was like by direct experience. The first blind elephant felt the man and declared, ‘Men are flat.’ After the other blind elephants felt the man, they agreed.

P.P.P.S. Just thankful that I’m neither blind nor an elephant!

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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