The Blind Men and the Elephant: A Hindoo Fable
By John Godfrey Saxe
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! --- but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: "Ho! --- what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"’Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
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,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
Reporting and evaluating life’s experiences often reflects the same “blindness” that is illustrated so aptly in this old Indian poem. Or, as marriage counselors would say, there are at least three perspectives of every situation: what he says happened, what she says happened, and what actually happened. And it can be nearly impossible to determine what actually happened, even if there are witnesses. Ask any traffic officer. When they get witness statements, they will usually get as many different stories as they have witnesses. What they hope to find is a significant number of people who can agree on certain basic facts, even if they disagree on specific details.
Two people may go through the same experience, but come away with completely different impressions. This is especially true in large-group settings. Ask any ten people who have attended the same conference, and you will get ten different stories. There will be some points on which all agree, but details will vary. In a large corporation like FedEx, each individual employee will have a different perspective of the business, how it works, and whether its policies are fair. Ask a cargo handler, a pilot, an accountant, and a secretary for their impressions of the company, and every single one of them will give you a completely different picture.
Part of the disparity hinges on the relative positions of the people involved in a given situation (for example, a teacher might give a different account of a situation than a student would), but part of it also depends on the individual personalities and the concatenation of experiences, preconceptions, and prejudices that each brings to the situation. A person who comes from a very loud, boisterous family will have a very different idea of “shouting” from someone who comes from a quiet, more reserved family.
Similarly, people who have been involved with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) or the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) all will report different experiences and impressions. Those who have only been through IBLP’s seminars have a different perspective from those whose families joined the ATI, and minimally-involved ATI students have a different perspective from those who worked at Training Centers, went on ministry trips, or attended various training conferences.
You’ll hear stories of people whose families used the ATI Wisdom Booklets as a curriculum adjunct and families who used them as the only curriculum. Some of the kids in both groups thrived academically; others found themselves academically deficient.
You’ll hear stories of people whose parents were extremely strict but who still developed close relationships with their children. You’ll hear other stories of very strict parents who now have little to no relationship with their now-adult children.
There are stories of people who had wonderful experiences at training centers, and there are stories of people who were abused and bullied at training centers. Stories of people who gained opportunities as a result of their training at an IBLP facility, and stories of people whose career possibilities were damaged by their “apprenticeship.” Those who think that they got exactly what they were told they would get, and those who feel that they were misled or lied to.
For every story of positive life-change as a result of involvement with IBLP and ATI, there is also a story of negative results. For every good experience, there is a bad one. Sometimes this happens among people who were at the same training center or conference at the same time.
When you read the personal stories here on Recovering Grace, keep the “elephant effect” in mind. Realize that those who have chosen to share their stories are reporting their side, their story. They are telling what happened from their perspective. Maybe you were there, and maybe you have a different perspective on the events. Send us your story. We’re not in the business of rebuttals, but we do want everyone’s perspective. Not just that of the disgruntled, abused, or unhappy. We also want to hear from the satisfied, favored, and happy.