Remember the parable of the three blind men and the elephant?

None had ever met an elephant when each was led to a different part of one. Each one touched what was in front of him, and each was asked to describe what an elephant was like.

The first man grabbed the elephant's leg. He said an elephant is like a tree. The second grabbed the elephant's tail and said an elephant is like a rope. The third grabbed the elephant’s trunk and said it is like a big snake.

They began to argue, each one sure he was right in how he perceived an elephant. And each was right - but none had the whole story.

It seems a lot of Americans have become like the men in the parable - they grab what's in front of them and say, "THIS is America. This is real. This is what matters."

And each is right that what is in front of them is real and true. The problem is that it is only a small part of the whole, and too few try to perceive what others are seeing and feeling.

Instead, too many reject anything but what they have grabbed onto. If an elephant is like a tree, then it cannot be like a rope or a snake, can it?

Unfortunately, it is also far too easy to find others who will back up what is believed. People can choose to read only what they agree with; watch only the news shows that re-enforce what they already believe and reject everything else as lies.

One of the more jarring examples of this lately was a Berkeley professor who praised the violent protestors who shut down a speech from an alt-right speaker. She said she remembered Berkeley’s free speech movement in the 60s, and was happy the protestors were not afraid to stand up to a repressive right wing.

She latched onto a protest that was against something she didn't like, so the protest became what was real and true. 

But, who was repressive here? How is preventing someone from speaking upholding freedom of speech? How is turning to violence a good way to show disagreement with a speech that, no matter how offensive one might find it, was peaceful?

An interview with a member of the campus Republican party, which had set up the speech, revealed more. He was sprayed with red paint, intimidated and said the school had done nothing to help or protect him.

Now, look at the immigration ban.

If you were one of the refugees who had spent years being cleared to come here, had packed and had a plane ticket in hand, how would you feel if that were suddenly taken away? If you were Muslim, how would the ban make you feel?

In some versions of the elephant parable, the blind men begin to listen to each other. They let go of what is right in front of them and begin exploring other parts of the elephant. They find a tusk, an ear, the elephant's stomach, and gradually they learn what the whole is.

Can we? Can we try to move just a little to see what else might be real and true? That doesn't mean giving up beliefs, it means being willing to listen, even when we don't agree, and to try to see another perspective. 

Load comments