Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Elephants and pigs

Four blind men met an elephant one day. The first blind man grabbed the elephant’s trunk. “An elephant is long, thin and flexible”, he said.

“You are wrong”, declared his friend, who had hold of the elephant’s leg. It is tall and solid like a tree trunk. I can put my arms around the elephant.”

“What are you two talking about?” asked the third blind man, who was feeling the elephant’s side. “An elephant is large and flat and very hard. An elephant is like a wall.”

“You are all wrong!” cried the blind man who had grabbed the elephant’s tail. “An elephant is like a piece of rope. I can hold it in one hand.”

The four blind men continued to argue about the elephant. They did not realise that all of them were right and all of them were wrong. They did not know that they each had only part of the picture, not the whole.

How often have we all met with similar experiences in our own lives? We’ve all been in arguments in which all the participants had part of the truth only. We’ve all been in discussions in which each person was convinced that he or she had the full picture when in fact nobody did.

The putting together of pieces of a picture is interesting if we happen to be reading a detective story. We like to watch the detective pull together the threads of a story until he or she has a case. It’s very different in real life. We all know people who are like the blind men; each determined to hold on to his own understanding.

Without openness and listening to the other blind men, the one who held the elephant’s trunk would have been convinced that the trunk was the whole elephant and that this was all there was to know about an elephant. The man who held the elephant’s leg would have had just as limited an understanding.

When someone holds on to his or her own point of view and is determined not to listen to others, we describe that person as pig-headed. Now I’ve never been able to travel inside the brain of a pig in order to see how it works. However, I have the impression that when a pig wants to do something, nothing will divert it from its intentions. To act like a pig is not to act as a human being. It’s not acting courteously, for a start. To act like a pig means to push other people, with their thoughts and ideas to one side. It means to be selfish and greedy. It means to ignore the fact that other people also have a right to their own point of view. It means to be even blinder than the four blind men who met the elephant.

How do I approach life? Am I like one of the blind men? Am I like a pig? What do I have to do in order to become more human, more like God? Can I be more open to other people? Can I be less greedy? Can I become a listener to others needs and ideas?

Lord, sometimes I am blind. Sometimes I am pig-headed and like to hold on to my own ideas. Help me, Lord, to be open to the thoughts and ideas of others. Help me to be more human, more like you, in the way in which I deal with other people today. Amen

God bless,
Sr. Janet