Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.”
They had no idea what an elephant is. They decided, “Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” All of them went where the elephant was. Everyone of them touched the elephant.
“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.
“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.
“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.
“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.
“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.
“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.
They began to argue about the elephant and everyone of them insisted that he was right. It looked like they were getting agitated. A wise man was passing by and he saw this. He stopped and asked them, “What is the matter?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”
People will give their own opinion of who they think you are based on the role you play in your relationship with them. Some of them may be right. And some may be wrong. But most, if not all, are all chips and bits of the huge iceberg that you are.
I’ve known this story of the elephant since I was a child in primary school. But the focus of its interpretation has always been about the six blind men and not the elephant. It was a lesson in tolerance, in accepting that you don’t know it all.
But there is another angle to it. If the elephant could hear and talk, what will he say that he looked like?
A few weeks back, a friend asked me to do a personal review of her strengths and weaknesses. It’s something many personal development coaches encourage you to do when running a personal evaluation of yourself or trying to make big decisions around purpose and career choices. And it is a good way of discovering attributes about yourself that you didn’t know you exhibited. I had a personal experience of this recently as well. Although mostly unsolicited, a few people shared their perception of me that I had never imagined of myself. In fact, I think I believed the opposite was true. But after proper evaluation, I saw that they may have a point. And not only that, it was an attribute I could explore to my full advantage.
However, what they saw in me is not all of what is in me. If I run with just that one idea of me, I would be cold and almost always ruthless; which I am not. And my friend is so much more than the few things I could tell her. And this is true with everyone.
Too often, people get overly concerned about what the ‘blind men’ are saying and less about who the elephant is. And rather than being the big and assuming elephant, you become like that old trunk with the signature camphor smell. The type great grandmothers keep rich lace materials they may never use again. A big trunk full of the half-baked perception of others. Or like a solid pipeline filled with potentials that people keep telling you that you have based on one thing that you did for them or that they saw you do. Now that will be a confusing and tiring life to live. Trying to keep up with different people’s varied and sometimes differing views of you. Making it about the roles they see you play or want you to play in their lives, rather than who you truly are. Was it Aristotle who said,
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
And the whole is never short on any of its parts. When the focus is on being your own kind of elephant, people will have different things to say and like the wise man in the story said, they won’t be wrong. While some see you as a great big wall, always getting promoted ahead of them, others see you as a fan that cools them down when there is heat. These things may be features of who you are. But they don’t work independently of each other.
So while it is good to get an external opinion of yourself, it isn’t everything. When you sort through those opinions and throw in your own truth, what do you see?
You are more. Find that more. Be that more.
If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. – Audre Lorde
P.S – This has been my Twitter bio for some months now. Cool, right? I like it!
Six blind men and an elephant. I am the elephant. Which are you?