Blind men and an elephant
The Blind men and an elephant is an idiom.
The story of the blind men and an elephant comes from India. It is about a range of truths and mistakes. It is also about the need for communication and the need for respect for different perspectives.
A group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part. For example, one touches only the side and another touches only the tusk.
The blind men discover that they disagree when each describes what he has learned from touching the elephant.
A famous version of story is a poem -- "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887).
The poem begins:
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,Might satisfy his mind
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
They conclude that the elephant is like a wall, snake, spear, tree, fan or rope, depending upon where they touch. None of blind men's description is correct for the whole elephant.
- Gong, Wenxiang. (1998). Communication and Culture: China and the World Entering the 21st Century, p. 51.
- Saxe, John Godfrey. (1872). "The Blind Men and the Elephant," The poems of John Godfrey Saxe, p. 260.
- Peng, T.C. and Juliana Yuan. (1995). "Chinese Idioms and Cultural Values," Chinese American Forum, Vols. 11-13, p. 32.
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- Story of the Blind Men and the Elephant from www.spiritual-education.org
- All of Saxe's Poems including original printing of The Blindman and the Elephant
- Buddhist Version as found in Jainism and Buddhism. Udana hosted by the University of Princeton
- Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi's version as translated by A.J. Arberry
- Jainist Version hosted by Jainworld
- John Godfrey Saxe's version hosted at Rice University