The PATCHWORK PACHYDERM
Six blind old men went to a zoo
Which blind men do not often do.
They wished to find out more about
Their unknown world I have no doubt.
It was not easy so to do,
Especially at our London zoo.
They heard a creature give a bellow,
The trumpet call was hardly mellow.
They followed the sound until they came
To where were housed all the big game.
Determined to go where blind men go
They encountered a creature they did not know.
They ventured into the elephant’s lair,
Sensing this to be just where
They could discover just what it is
Makes this creature a walking quiz.
* * *
Tim fell against its side so tall,
Crying “This is a mighty wall”.
Jim touched its Tusk and gave a cry,
“It is a Spear I’ll not deny”.
Lim felt its trunk and began to quake,
“I’m pretty sure it is a snake”.
Dim touched a leg saying with glee,
“Well, this can only be a tree”.
Kim then reached up and touched an ear,
“This is a fan it is quite clear”.
Yim lifted the tail saying in hope,
“I’m almost sure this is a rope”.
They thought, each one, that they’d found out
Just what Jumbo was all about.
So I ask you please, whate’er you see,
You don’t need a first-class degree.
Just never get your logic mangled,
Make sure your view is multi-angled.
The story of the SIX BLIND MEN has its possible origins in India, but the same basic story has appeared with variations in many different cultures. I first came across it in the Chinese version. The story in essence tells of blind men who, never having been able to see an elephant, decided to use their sense of touch to discover what sort of a creature it was. On doing so, each one pronounced on the basis of their own, very limited,view. Because each man touched only one part of the elephant, and based their judgement on what they had found, each came up with a different version of what they considered the creature to be like.
(‘Shiang’ or ‘Xiang’ … the Chinese pictogram for ‘elephant’)
So, In turn, each blind man created his own version of reality from that limited experience and perspective. In philosophy departments throughout the world, the Blind Men and the Elephant has become the exemplar of moral relativism and religious tolerance.
So this ancient parable is used today as a warning for people that promote absolute truth or exclusive religious claims. It demonstrates that our sensory perceptions and life experiences can, if we are not careful, lead to a very limited understanding and interpretation of the nature of something or someone else. With only a limited understanding of truth we can only receive a constrained version of reality.
There are several versions in poetic form of this story, to which I have added my own above, with the title ‘The Patchwork Pachyderm’ !