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Understanding the Elephant

Five people wearing blindfolds were once brought into a room in the middle of which stood an elephant. Each person was directed to a different part of the animal, and then all five were encouraged to explore and discover whatever they could.


The first person explored one of the elephant’s legs. “This creature,” she said, “is like a strong tree.”


The second person was led to the elephant’s tail. “No,” he said, “it is like thick rope.”


The third person was investigating the elephant’s ear. “You’re both wrong,” he said. “It’s like a giant palm leaf.”


“No, no, no,” said the fourth person, who was engaged with the elephant’s trunk. “It is like a thick snake.”


The fifth, who’d been led to the elephant’s body, simply laughed to herself. “How can they all be so wrong?” she thought. “This thing is like a huge boulder.”


The five argued with each other for some time—all certain that they were accurately describing what they were experiencing; none able to change the mind of even one of the others. At last they took off their blindfolds and discovered that each was right, and each was wrong. It was only when they combined their descriptions that they began to understand the elephant.


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Last updated on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

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