Chapter 1

The Blind Men And The Elephant

Nineteenth-century American poet John Godfrey Saxe is most remembered for his poem “The Blind Men And The Elephant.” It was based on his version of an ancient Indian fable about six blind men who were examining an elephant. By touching only part of the elephant, each blind man arrived at a different conclusion of what an elephant was like. Feeling the huge animal’s side, one of them said it was like a wall. Another touched its tusk and thought it was like a spear. Holding on to its trunk, one blind man said the elephant was like a snake. Touching one of its legs, another believed it was like a tree. Grasping one of its ears, still another concluded it was like a fan. Grabbing its tail, one of the blind men thought the elephant was like a rope. The poem concludes:

And so these men
of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was
partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Each one of the blind men was partially right in what he experienced but ultimately wrong in his conclusion. Together they confused their limited viewpoint with the whole of reality.

Not only is this clever parable amusing to read, it also carries an important point about the way we all look at our world. The part of reality that we see shapes our view of what is true.

The reality that each of us sees, however, is often fragmented and confused by the different windows of popular media. Just by clicking on the TV remote, we find ourselves leaping from one perspective to another. The History Channel reviews past events and analyzes their meaning. Discovery Channel takes us to different parts of the globe, examining animal and plant life while explaining their relationship to evolution. The series Lost depicts complex characters on an island, with flashbacks that often redefine each person’s identity and relationships. The Oprah Winfrey Show offers free and compelling counsel on spirituality. Seinfield tickles our funny bone but has no unifying plot—only disjointed and absurd life situations. The X-Files traces disturbing evidence that points to the paranormal. And various reality shows film the conflicts of real people in real situations. Interestingly, each of these programs assumes some kind of window on the world, but its perspective is often hidden.

With so many different windows to look through, how do we discern the key ingredients of a worldview?