The Elephant in the Room


It is all a matter of perspective. Or shining a light on the matter. A Sufi “teaching story” says it all:

“Some Indians kept an elephant in a dark room. Because it was impossible to see
the elephant, those who wanted to know something about this exotic beast had to
feel it with their hands. The first person went into the darkness and felt the elephant’s trunk and announced, This creature is alike a water pipe. The next person felt the elephant’s ear and asserted, No. It is like a giant fan. A third person felt the elephant’s leg and declared, That is not true. This animal resembles a pillar. A fourth person felt the elephant’s back and concluded, Not at all. It’s like a throne.
Different points of view produce different opinions. If someone had brought a candle,they would have all felt like fools.”

Whether or not you put any credence into Sufism, it can be simply defined (from my cursory reading of the subject) as an effort to get at the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (or was that Perry Mason?) The little parable teaches a lot of things. The first is a rather tongue in cheek interpretation which mirrors my rather pessimistic personal philosophy that life is just a series of humiliations. This is witnessed in the concluding words of the story where “they would have all felt like fools” once the whole animal had been revealed to them. There was a simple solution to their buffoonery (light a candle to reveal the truth) but then we would not have had a “teaching story” would we?

Without my rather cynical take on the story, what it also teaches is that we need all the information available to come to a conversant (as in knowledgeable) conclusion. Paul Harvey, renown radio broadcaster of yesteryear made his bread and butter by telling what he called “The Rest of the Story”. Bold and brash (in order to keep his listeners’ attention) he strived to tell the part of the story that no light had previously shed. Were all his stories true? I will leave that up to you and urban legend, but he had a formula, and it worked.

The elephant, taken in parts, is mistaken for a water pipe, a fan, a pillar, and a throne. This is telling in ways other than the obvious. How many times have parts of your personality been taken by themselves and cast you in a light that you do not recognize? I have come to realize (particularly from being more a reader of Facebook than a participant) that things can get out of hand rather quickly when someone puts their opinion out there and invites others to comment. Some comment in kind; some comment because I am convinced they are bored and want to start some drama; and others get downright nasty. But each comment should not really stand alone. Each individual has a history. They have experienced things that are unique to them. But little of that comes out in the comments.

I find Facebook commentary is a lot like road rage. Road rage seems to come out of nowhere and escalate beyond all reason. A step or two (or in some cases a thousand) back is all it would take to diffuse a situation. So much goes into our reaction to an event—a bad day at work, an insult, a bad break up (are there good break ups?), money problems, and just the every day hassles of living. We are a hodge podge of emotions yet we do not shine a light on all of them. We tend to be oblivious sometimes, and walk in “the darkness”. Now, I know that it is exhausting to take all factors into account—but the realization that the cashier at the counter is not exchanging pleasantries with you is deeper than the fact that he or she is just a jerk.

I will leave you with an interpretation of this “teaching story” by Melissa Pritchard, author of “A Solemn Pleasure”. She believes that the point of the teaching is that “each person in the story, and by extension, each of us, is limited by (our) own experience, (our) own vantage point and perception,” She says that “were a candle or a lamp to be lit, each person would see her own position, its humility, humour and restraint.” Once the whole picture is revealed, you would then understand “the foolishness, or limit, of (your) own fixed opinion.

So, take that candle out from under your bushel (I don’t know about you but whenever we sang This Little Light of Mine at Sunday School, I always thought that hiding your light under a bushel was a fire hazard), and let it light up what is hard to see in the metaphorical dark.

Published in: on August 3, 2017 at 2:37 pm  Comments (3)