The Blind Men and the Elephant

The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxon

Type of Initiative: Perspective, Conflict Resolution

Published in:   Setting the Conflict Compass, by Michelle Cummings with Mike Anderson

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Men_and_an_Elephant (downloaded on 12/18/06)

Props Needed:  You will need at least one copy of the Blind Men poem and one blank sheet of paper for each participant.  You will also need multiple writing utensils, such as pencils, markers, crayons, or colored pencils.

Group Size:  1–40 

A Note from Mike Anderson:  When I was teaching middle school, I was constantly looking for exercises that engaged more than one learning style…something that appealed to the kids that needed something visual.  The Blind Men and The Elephant accomplished this. This exercise gave kids (and adults alike) the opportunity to explore differences in perspective without having to be analytical or “find the missing link,” as is the case in so many of the perspective puzzles we use.

Directions:

  • Begin by giving instructions for how to fold the paper.  First, fold it in half the long way (like a hotdog), then in half the short way (like a hamburger), and then in half the short way again (like an even smaller hamburger)…now unfold completely.  When you open the paper, you should have eight rectangles.
  • Have the participants number each rectangle from 1 to 8 starting in the upper-left-hand corner and moving across the paper.
  • Say to the group:  “As I recite the following poem to you, one stanza at a time, please draw the picture of that stanza that develops in your mind’s eye.  There are eight stanzas to the poem; one for each folded rectangle on  your piece of paper.”

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan, to learning much inclined, who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind), that each by observation, might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant, and, happening to fall, against his broad and sturdy side, at once began to bawl: "God bless me! but the elephant, is nothing but a wall!"

The second feeling of the tusk, cried: "Ho! what have we here, so very round and smooth and sharp? To me tis mighty clear, this wonder of an elephant, is very like a spear!"

The third approached the animal, and, happening to take, the squirming trunk within his hands, "I see," quoth he, the elephant is very like a snake!"

The fourth reached out his eager hand, and felt about the knee: "What most this wondrous beast is like, is mighty plain," quoth he; "Tis clear enough the elephant is very like a tree."

The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said; "E'en the blindest man can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an elephant, is very like a fan!"

The sixth no sooner had begun, about the beast to grope, than, seizing on the swinging tail, that fell within his scope, "I see," quothe he, "the elephant is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan, disputed loud and long, each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!

Variations: This activity can also be done in small groups.  Each group will get eight large sheets of paper or poster board.  The process is the same—read the stanza and then ask the group draw what they see.  You will need to allow a few minutes for the small groups to discuss what they “see” when they hear the stanza.  Have the group draw one picture per sheet.  At the conclusion of the drawing portion, hang the illustrations on the wall.

Debriefing Topics:

  • What was the premise of the exercise?
  • Who was right?  Why or why not?
  • What did the “blind men” learn?
  • How could they have resolved their conflict?
  • In your life, have you ever been part of a group that was in a similar situation?  What did you do about it?

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