The Blind Men and The Elephant

I love the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant most. It is interesting, inspirational, and helpful for me.

In the story, six blind men approached the elephant and each one of them only grasped part of the elephant. They argued with each other about what the elephant really looked like. They claim the elephant is like a wall, like spear, like a snake, like a tree, like a fan, or like a rope. Obviously they could not reach an agreement.

Several hundred years later, the story still repeat itself. People tend to understand only a tiny portion of Reality and then extrapolate all manner of dogmas from that, each claiming only his one is the correct version. This re-appeared a number of times in both Western and Oriental thought.

I also saw it on this blog. The most recent comments (like this) repeated the Blind Men and Elephant story. When I read comment like this, I never doubt that the person had touched part of the elephant. He/she did, but not all. Me? I am the same.

By knowing that every one can only see so small part of the world, and so small slice of time in history, we are even more curious and conciouse about the world. Being able to see only part of the world does not prevent us from forming an opinion, but we can do a much better job than the blind men. When we express our opinions, we can show some respect to others, and always remind ourselves that we only see part of the world.

Since I don’t have the confidence as many of my strong-minded commentors to claim I am the person who knows the whole world best, I can only write my own observation to the world. So here is the rule I used to write my blog: I don’t write down something I know is not true. This helps me to still have the courage to write, although I am conciouse that I may be expressing the incomplete view. For example, I did write about news on local newspaper. However, I didn’t experience it myself, or by my own eyes, the only thing I could confirm is, I read about a piece of news on newspaper. I believe even after 50 years, even the news itself may be prooved to be fake, it is still a solid truth that this kind of news ever appeared and reached a normal person in Shanghai. Isn’t it also a valuable piece of history record to show the daily life 50 years ago?

Just like The Diary of Anne Frank shows there is children’s dream and how Anne enjoys the little closet under Nazi, general perception is different than REAL people’s life.

Shanghai is such a big city, and there are so many people there. Everyone has a different life. Some is tough; some is good. Some people are always optimistic about life, and some are always sad and angry about the world. There are 16 million different lives Shanghai. I am 1/16 million of the city. I don’t think anyone can generalize what the life in the city is. I don’t like to call a certain type of life is “representitive” to the life in this city, because 16 million lives, including mine, are all unique, and meaningful.

If the six blind men can learn to appreciate other’s observation, and sit down around a table, and put other’s view to suppliment their own views, maybe they could draw a much closer view of the elephant, who knows.

In reality, since everyone is a blind man, I rely on my readers to comment and tell me what the same world look like, whether it’s like a fan, like a pole, like a wall, or something else.

That is the reason I enjoy the comments on my blog, no matter it is positive, negative, or different. I never delete people attacking me or China/Shanghai/Henan/Asia/(and sometime human as a whole) on this blog. I never doubt the sincerity when they write down the comment, because it was their true feeling. I understand that. What bothers me was the frustration people expressed when they argued on this blog. They tried too hard pusuade another blind man to agree with them, without listening first. Why the world should have only one view? Why cannot a subject be both red, and green, large and small, evil and good, happy and sad? Can these conflicting characters belong to the same thing? If we accept that there can be more than one answer to a question, we start to appreciate other’s answers.

Finally, let me tell you another great story, it is called “The Six Blind Men and China

It was six men in different part of the world, to learning much inclined,

who went to see China (Though all of them were blind),

that each by observation, might satisfy his mind.

The first approached China, and, reading several piece of news

on Internet, at once began to bawl:

“God bless me! but China, is nothing but an evil country!”

The second visiting Shanghai the last year, cried:

“Ho! what an exciting experience. I like the food!

To me tis mighty clear, this wonder of China, is very like a paradise!”

The third approached the country, and, visiting the rural area,

“I see, “, quoth he, “China is the poorest country in the world!”

The fourth reached out his eager hand and set a branch of his international business:

“Why you still waste time here,” quoth he;

“Tis clear enough China is the powerhouse of the world economy!”

The fifth, who chanced to be have a bad life on this land, Said; “E’en the blindest man can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can, This marvel of China, is very like hell!”

The sixth kept a blog for 5 years, and also lived there,

“I see,” quothe he, “China is very like a good place for me!”

And so these men, 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!

So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween,

tread on in utter ignorance, of what each other mean,

and prate about China, not one of them has seen!

Written by Jian Shuo Wang, based on the work of John Godfrey Saxe (1816 – 1887)

18 thoughts on “The Blind Men and The Elephant

  1. Great article Jian Shuo!! it is so true that many people tend to see the rest of the world from where they are nestled in and bound up by their pre-conceived ideas or notions.

  2. Hi Jiang Shuo,

    don’t be angry of this. The big opportunity of writing a Blog is: the six Blind came together and learn to see over the own horizont.

    That’s the only fundamental result of writing Blogs.

    So go on, you’r right – it is yours!

    Kind regards: XiongShui

  3. Hehe. I am not angry – if I should be angry, I may quit writing 4 years ago… I just want people to put every thing people see from different angel, so we have a better chance to understand the world better.

    I do agree the six men should sit down together, like around a little blog, and chat about their own experience.

    I’d like to call everyone’s help to maintain an atmosphere of conversation, instead of finger pointing.

  4. Also, I am also deeply conscious that no one has the super power to change other people’s point-of-view, so I don’t attempt to argue with anyone. In this diversified world, what we can do is just to talk. What we can do better is listen, listen and listen. However, no one can help people who never listen to listen, so I didn’t even try that.

    I like the saying that:

    “We are always praised, or criticized, but we can never be understood”.

    This preciously illustrate how hard communication is. I have 100% of content in my mind, but when I write, no matter how hard I try, I can only convey 5% of them. When people read, they combine their own experiences, and assume I am talking about another 100%, which is totally different than the 100% in my mind.

    It is a fact that communication is such a hard part of humanity, so we all need to try hard enough, and learn the skill to do a better job than before.

  5. Fantastic post! And the “Six Blind Men and China”? Pure brilliance!! Nicely done, Jian Shuo :-)

  6. your english is just get better and better. this is definitely a benefit to write english blog.

  7. Nice post…thanks for furthering greater mutual understanding among the people of the world…more important than ever before. I couldn’t figure out why I like this blog so much, now I do! Seek first to understand, then to be understood (from Covey I think)…

  8. Jian Shou

    Your thought is 100% illustrated in your posting.

    I appreciate your blog, and love to read it daily.

    Best wishes!

  9. I enjoy your blog, and I appreciate the sentiment. But I must say, there are somethings that aren’t open to interpretation. Some things really, really happened. I know our press in the USA isn’t perfect, and many of our history books are less than perfectly factual. But so many chinese people I meet approach discussion of the Great Leap Forward, the cultural revolution and the tienamen square business with the same disbelief. They decide to say “who knows for sure what really happened”. The fact is that we may not know all the little details, but we know enought to be able to say, for sure, that millions died in the cultural revolution. We also know at least 300 (possibly many, many more) students were killed simply for expressing their opinion. It was on live television around the world. Every account of this history basically agrees on the facts. Except one: the official chinese government story. Please, people in china who can read this, use your critical thinking skills. Is all of the world lying, or is the government of china lying? China is a wonderful place, filled with wonderful people. Believe me when I say that a democratic future for china would be a wonderful thing. (just don’t let anyone outside of china tell you how to do it. Or worse, force you to do it. china must master its own destiny. Hopefully a free one where people can practice any religion and say whatever they want. Its a great thing to have and possibly the one last thing that makes america great)

  10. Stephen, thanks for your sharing. What you said is exactly true. Me as an example, went through the course to re-think about the history of China in the last 2 years, and to be honest, to learn what happened on this land (from knowing nothing to have some idea) is hard. There are many part of the country that is seen only by people outside, but not people here. That is sad, but I am still confident about the future. Anyway, it is a great nation with 3000 years ups and downs, and history like the last centuary is not the first, and won’t be last. Some change should happen, I do agree.

  11. Different views or opinions should be all welcomed. That’s what blog is there for. As we know undoubtedly, everything has its two sides (at least). We cannot just give it a true-or-false click. Perspectives are formed based on the viewer’s cultural/educational/living background, the social class where he/she’s in, and complicated information tunnels or ways how he/she gets informed. Therefore, it’s not a big deal that you are challenged by different ideas or comments. Just like exotic spices that feature interesting flavors, our lives need them as much as food does. Let’s embrace them, respect them. Don’t be cynical. After all, diversity is all we value.

  12. Hello Stephen, I am stephen as well.

    Do you know Chinese authority has forbidden any form of discussion of the event on that faithful evening up to this date.

    Thanks to CNN I was able to watch the full live coverage before and at the event, but to my surprise, many footage we can see today associated with the event has carefully either deleted or edited when compared to the live coverage. I hope one day the truth will prevail.

    The official account released by the Chinese authority after the event is 37 soldiers were killed with no autopsy details and that was quickly diluted by the western media.

  13. Great article! Most people are blind men, who only see part of the world. listen other’s opinon about the world, and combined it with ours, so that we can draw a more complete picture of the world.

    thx Jian Shuo!

  14. In China, there is something that is simply not “discussable”. It is no matter which is right or which is wrong, which is reality or which is not. It is simply an event that they don’t like people to remember, and hope people will forget it soon.

  15. Jian Shuo, I agree with you.

    Remember few years earlier of that faithful evening, a similar event almost same in every scale was happened in Gwangju, Korea. Today history has white washed that event, the world has forgotten Gwangju and most Korean are reluntant to discuss it, not by government repression, but people in Korea think this was a day in infamy.

    Oh dear, I used the word “infamy” on the day of infamy, Dec 7.

  16. Just wanted to point out that the blind men and elephant story originally comes from the Buddhist sutras in Pali. The Buddha was using it to describe religious truth and the dogmatism of different traditions. I’ve heard it told before in China; it’s interesting how the story has survived although its origins seem to have been forgotten.

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