My Piece of the Elephant


Michele Morin -Piece of the Elephant3

Long ago and far away there were six men, wise indeed, but, alas, they were all without sight. An opinionated lot, every one, in the course of their wanderings, they happened to meet an elephant standing squarely in the center of their path.

Feeling duty-bound to report on his discovery, the first wise man gripped one of the massive beast’s sharp tusks and declared, “It is stunning how much an elephant resembles a spear.”

The second wise man, equally confident, reached out until his hands connected with one large and floppy ear. “Nay,” he retorted, “you are mistaken, for ‘tis clear to me that elephantine nature is like that of a fan. Already I feel the cooling of air around me as this fine elephant sweeps back and forth.”

The third wise man could no longer hold his peace, for he had meandered off to the rear and found the elephant’s tail. “Neither a spear nor a fan, my brothers, could take this shape or form. Obviously, an elephant is like a rope.”

And so the story proceeds with one sightless hypothesis revolving around the muscular snake-like trunk, another enthusiastic theory about its tree-trunk legs, and a final proclamation that the body mass was surely a broad and impassable wall.

Each was partially right, but all were in the wrong.

Underneath this ancient story’s observation about human nature lies a chilling truth about the perils of logic. To save time and energy in its quest for certainty, the brain will hide its own biases from itself. Believing in the thoroughness of our research, we immerse ourselves in evidence that does nothing but confirm our preconceptions.

The six wise men had all they needed to correct their narrow perspective: the observations of the other five. A move to the right or to the left, a hand extended to a broader reach, or a question posed to a nearby brother: “What do you mean, it feels like a rope? Here, put your hand on THIS and see what you think!”

Any of these would have changed the whole story.

Research indicates diverse groups have the ability to reveal hidden biases. What this looks like here on the ground is that if I share my piece of the elephant, while also listening to my sister’s thoughts on elephant morphology, we both get a more accurate view of the beast in question.

Diversity is rare in rural Maine, so I have to go looking for it.

My daughters-in-law hail from a different generation and other family cultures, so their gift to me is a fresh outlook on the world. As a mother-in-law in training, it’s crucial for me to remember I’m not the only one who knows how to make a meal, clean a house, weed a garden, or care for a baby.

I worship with women who have lived and served in contexts beyond my own and can keep me from confusing efficiency with innovation. Am I getting better and better at doing something that is no longer relevant or useful? If so, somebody please speak up!

Online communities, authors, and fellow bloggers from around the world enrich my life with their diverse contexts and their views on issues that differ from my own. They remind me that a snapshot of a ball in the air is not the entire trajectory. There’s not a one of us who sees ends, but only middles. The input of others, the influence of time, and the grace of God introduces a kind of humility appropriate to a time-bound creature like me.

Prone to the blindness of seeing singularly and worshiping busily at the altar of our own rightness, we reenact the elephant story in our own time.

“I’ll tell you the nature of racism,” says the well-meaning soul, touching the elephant’s razor sharp tusk.

“Certainly mental illness is a matter of spiritual lack,” gushes the sweet, sheltered sister with the naturally upbeat disposition.

“Addiction? Well, it’s all tied to poverty, of course,” snaps the expert with the clipboard.

“When we stop singing hymns, we’ve stopped worshiping God,” grouses the gray- haired church member, hiking up her panty hose.

When the issue in the room is wide, gray and heavy, when it trumpets its voice and silences everything else within hearing distance, what is my right response? Like the six wise men in our story, will I lay confident hands on one aspect of the issue and announce that I’ve discovered its essence based on my own precious piece of the elephant?

Wisdom is the joyful admission that we don’t know all the answers.

We can’t always tell what is sin, what is good, what is wise, or even what is essentially beautiful, but if we love God and stay close to His Truth, if we have ears to hear each other’s voices and a willingness to reach outside our own safe and cherished verdict, we have begun to learn.