The Elephant in a Dark Room

I was recently reminded of the story of the elephant in the dark room found in Buddhist and Hindu culture. What hadn’t occurred to me until now is how the parable also applies to communities.

In the Hindu version of the parable, an elephant is exhibited in a dark room. A number of men touch and feel the elephant in the dark and then learn and imagine what the elephant is like. Each man feels a different part of the elephant’s body - but it is only one part - such as the trunk, an ear, or the tusk. They then describe the elephant based on their limited experience. Not surprisingly, they find their descriptions of the elephant to be quite different from one another’s.

In so many ways this is similar to how each of us perceives our geographical or virtual communities in that we typically view them from our own perspective, filters, and lived experience.

The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to believe they know the truth based on their limited, subjective experience, often ignoring one another’s sometimes limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true.

Typically, our tendency is to think of ‘communities’ as being made up of those with who have perspectives, filters, and experiences similar to our own. But maybe, just maybe, if we each held a candle and went into the dark room together to learn more about the unknown elephant (or community), our differences would disappear and the full picture of our collective strengths, would be clearer.

Today’s interconnected complex challenges require the multiple experiences, assets, and wisdom of citizens, government, social profits, and businesses to ensure we all see the big picture and can work collaboratively to strengthen social, environmental, and economic well-being.

Posted on 06-04-22

Add your Comment here:






Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: Our Systems Are Broken

Previous entry: Want Transformative Change? Positive Deviants Can Help