I had a dream the other night that I was telling The Blind Men and The Elephant story. Do you know it? It’s a traditional Indian story about a group of blind men who’ve never come across an elephant before. They learn what the elephant is like by touching it.
One puts his hand on the elephant's side and says, “Now I know all about an elephant, he’s just like a wall.” .
The second feels the elephant's tusk and responds, “No, you’re mistaken. He's not at all like a wall. He's more like a spear."
The third takes hold of the elephant's trunk and argues, “You’re both wrong, an elephant is like a snake."
The fourth grasps one of the elephant's legs and says, “No, that’s not right, he's round and tall like a tree."
The fifth takes hold of the elephant's ear and says,“You’re all wrong, he's like a huge fan."
The sixth grabs hold of the elephant’s tail and concludes, “He’s not any of those things, he’s like a rope."
Only, in my dream, I wasn’t recounting it as if it were six blind men approaching the elephant. It was one blind person touching different parts of it and repeatedly making false assumptions based on their limited perspective.
I woke up thinking about this as a parable for how each of us perceives the extraordinary events we are living through. Is it doomsday? Or the opportunity to finally come together to make a fundamental shift in the way we care for each other and the planet? Will it lead to mayhem? Or to the understanding that there can be no individual well-being without collective well-being?
As I’ve continued to sit with this over the past few days, I realize all the myriad ways I’ve experienced this unknown beast of our current reality, all the different facets of this enormous shift we’ve all been lurched into over the past two weeks.
I’ve experienced my anger, sadness, frustration, judgment, fear, and worry. I’ve also been moved by the beauty and intelligence of nature, and by the generosity, creativity and resilience of people.
I’ve felt a deep sense of unity with all of humanity as we move through this collective crisis, all doing our best to navigate these uncharted waters, and the empathy and compassion that brings.
I’ve felt incredibly energized, motivated and galvanized by a desire to be of service.
I realize that all of these are only some of the many possible responses to our new reality.
I’ve watched as others have shared their own interpretations and limited views on the situation, all of us trying to make sense of this, all of us doing our best to deal with the uncertainty of the moment in our own way.
I recognize my own blindness too, my limited vision that’s colored mostly by my privilege. The privilege of being someone who already works at home, who enjoys relatively good health, access to fresh food, clean water, a safe place to live, and technology. And I realize I’m limited just by virtue of being a human being constrained in time, space, knowledge, and therefore, in perspective.
In my best moments, though, I’m also the storyteller, like in my dream. At least a little bit. The one who is slightly detached, who can see and name what’s really going on. I don’t pretend to understand the historical perspective, the evolutionary shift this event will bring, the new reality it might usher in. Who knows?
But at least this voice allows me to call out my limited understanding for what it is. To me that’s a place of clarity and freedom, a perspective that at least gives me a way to see through the thicket of my emotions, thoughts, reactions, tendencies, and It’s a place of hope, which is what I think I need now more than anything else.
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