Six Blind Folks

Six blind folks bump into a mysterious thing. Out of curiosity, they grope it.

Person 1 feels its trunk: “It’s soft and long. It’s a snake!”

Person 2 feels its ear: “Feels flat and floppy to me. It’s a hand fan.”

Person 3 feels its leg: “Nah, it’s tall, round, and rough. It’s a tree trunk.”

Person 4 feels its side: “Can’t be. It’s hard and wide. It’s a wall.”

Person 5 feels its tail: “I object! It’s thin and flexible. It’s a rope.”

Person 6 feels its tusk: “Really? It’s long and sharp. It’s a spear.”

The six blind folks argue about this snake-fan-tree-wall-rope-spear thing until a sighted zookeeper passes by.

Zookeeper: “Stop harassing my elephant!”

This parable has numerous interpretations across cultures and disciplines. I find it helpful to gain perspective on perspective. In any group, dispersion of knowledge is inherent. We each hold a unique lens, and no one lens is wholly right or wrong.

Author and journalist Michael Pollan layers lenses to understand a subject. For instance, when exploring the apple, he layered the hard sciences of botany, biology, and agriculture with the soft sciences of economics and politics. He considered literature and history—the folklore of Johnny Appleseed and Greek mythology—to expand his perspective. To counteract one-sided blindness, we can:

  1. Be curious. Seek more than meets the eye (or ears or hands).
  2. Gather diverse lenses. Consult those with different experiences than our own.
  3. Stay humble. Assume we’re blind to something. Because we probably are.