Blind men and an elephant

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Blind men touching parts of an elephant

The Blind men and an elephant is an idiom.

The story of the blind men and an elephant comes from India. It is about a range of truths and mistakes. It is also about the need for communication and the need for respect for different perspectives.

The idiom shows the effects of observation and bias.[1] Idioms are a common stumbling block for learners of a language.

Story[change | change source]

A group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part. For example, one touches only the side and another touches only the tusk.

The blind men discover that they disagree when each describes what he has learned from touching the elephant.

Poem[change | change source]

A famous poem — "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887).

And so these men of Hindustan
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.

The poem begins:

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[2]

They conclude that the elephant is like a wall, snake, spear, tree, fan or rope, depending upon where they touch. None of blind men's description is correct for the whole elephant.[3]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Gong, Wenxiang. (1998). Communication and Culture: China and the World Entering the 21st Century, p. 51.
  2. Saxe, John Godfrey. (1872). "The Blind Men and the Elephant," The poems of John Godfrey Saxe, p. 260.
  3. Peng, T.C. and Juliana Yuan. (1995). "Chinese Idioms and Cultural Values," Chinese American Forum, Vols. 11-13, p. 32.

Other websites[change | change source]