If not shocked, I was in disbelief when my wise and worldly friend told me he had never heard the parable of the five blind men and the elephant. I see it as a metaphor holding some key attitudinal principles for our times.

In case you haven’t heard it, here goes my paraphrase:

Five men (in the story it was always men) who were blind from birth are brought into a room where there is an elephant and are asked to describe it. One man grabs ahold of a leg and declares that the elephant is like a post. Another, grabbing the ear, says, “no, it is flat, and flaps around.” Another, feeling the tail says, “no, you are both wrong. It is like a small paint brush.” Yet another one of the men, holding the trunk says, “it is like a big fire-hose.” And so on.

Everyone one of them was partially right, and yet so totally wrong.

Key lessons:

First: Don’t believe everything you think. Your perspective may be true, but it’s most likely partial truth. If you get attached to your perspective as being the only correct one, you will miss out on the rest of the elephant. Yes the elephant is like a post, but that is only its leg.

Second: Gather multiple perspectives. The more perspectives you have on a topic — up to a point, but that is a separate post — the less partial your version of the truth becomes.

Third: Find a way to integrate multiple perspectives. It’s not enough to gather them. We need a way for them to all make sense in relation to each other, in a way that also allows for new future discoveries. (This is one of the reasons I appreciate “integrative decision making” and “dynamic steering” — two principles within the fascinating organizational practice called holacracy.)

One of the things I do for my organizational clients is facilitate meetings in which we surface dissenting views in a way that is constructive for the group. If it sounds hard to do, it’s even trickier to teach how to do. People’s knee-jerk reactions are so deeply ingrained, we interpret a different perspective as if it were an attack on what we’re saying, instead of getting curious and opening to the possibility that it can make us all wiser.

Upshot: train yourself to –
1) Notice when you’re in “either/or” thinking, and
2) Develop “both/and” thinking.

–> Train yourself to always look for how multiple seemingly contradictory truths can be integrated.

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