This free energiser is useful to demonstrate the importance of perspective and how different people might view what is seemingly the same situation. It can be useful during training courses on leadership, communication and team building.
Through the telling of a story, participants will learn to appreciate different points of view and understand the importance of sharing as many facts as possible before coming to a conclusion.
Training course contents:
A set of instructions for the energiser, ‘The Blind Men and the Elephant’ can be downloaded as a Word document for free from the link below, or you can use the notes provided here…
Instructions – read the relatively well known traditional folk story from India that is outlined below to your participants. It can be useful to try and memorise the story rather than read it verbatim as it adds more feeling and emotion that way.
After the participants have heard the story, use the following questions to guide discussion on how differences in perspective can make it difficult for people to communicate. The participants should be encouraged to apply the story to their own real life situations.
- How does it feel when another person doesn’t ‘see’ something the same way you do?
- What happens in the story when each blind man ‘sees’ the elephant? Why were there six different ideas about the elephant? Were any of the men right about the elephant? Were any of them completely wrong?
- What did the blind men learn from the Rajah? What does the storyteller want us to learn from this tale?
- Do problems like this happen in real life? Think of times when arguments or misunderstandings have occurred because people saw situations from different points of view. Describe what happened.
- What if the men in this story were not blind? Would they still have different ideas about elephants?
- Does the story give you any ideas about how these problems can be solved? What are some steps you can take to understand why another person doesn’t see things the way you do?
The Blind Men and the Elephant
Long ago six old men lived in a village in India. Each was born blind.
The other villagers loved the old men and kept them away from harm. Since the blind men could not see the world for themselves, they had to imagine many of its wonders. They listened carefully to the stories told by travellers to learn what they could about life outside the village.
The men were curious about many of the stories they heard, but they were most curious about elephants. They were told that elephants could trample forests, carry huge burdens, and frighten young and old with their loud trumpet calls. But they also knew that the Rajah’s daughter rode an elephant when she travelled in her father’s kingdom. Would the Rajah let his daughter get near such a dangerous creature?
The old men argued day and night about elephants. “An elephant must be a powerful giant,” claimed the first blind man. He had heard stories about elephants being used to clear forests and build roads.
“No, you must be wrong,” argued the second blind man. “An elephant must be graceful and gentle if a princess is to ride on its back.”
“You’re wrong! I have heard that an elephant can pierce a man’s heart with its terrible horn,” said the third blind man.
“Please,” said the fourth blind man. “You are all mistaken. An elephant is nothing more than a large sort of cow. You know how people exaggerate.”
“I am sure that an elephant is something magical,” said the fifth blind man. “That would explain why the Rajah’s daughter can travel safely throughout the kingdom.”
“I don’t believe elephants exist at all,” declared the sixth blind man. “I think we are the victims of a cruel joke.”
Finally, the villagers grew tired of all the arguments, and they arranged for the curious men to visit the palace of the Rajah to learn the truth about elephants. A young boy from their village was selected to guide the blind men on their journey. The smallest man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. The second blind man put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, and so on until all six men were ready to walk safely behind the boy who would lead them to the Rajah’s magnificent palace.
When the blind men reached the palace, they were greeted by an old friend from their village who worked as a gardener on the palace grounds. Their friend led them to the courtyard. There stood an elephant.
The blind men stepped forward to touch the creature that was the subject of so many arguments.
The first blind man reached out and touched the side of the huge animal. “An elephant is smooth and solid like a wall!” he declared. “It must be very powerful.”
The second blind man put his hand on the elephant’s limber trunk. “An elephant is like a giant snake,” he announced.
The third blind man felt the elephant’s pointed tusk. “I was right,” he decided. “This creature is as sharp and deadly as a spear.”
The fourth blind man touched one of the elephant’s four legs. “What we have here,” he said, “is an extremely large cow.”
The fifth blind man felt the elephant’s giant ear. “I believe an elephant is like a huge fan or maybe a magic carpet that can fly over mountains and treetops,” he said.
The sixth blind man gave a tug on the elephant’s coarse tail. “Why, this is nothing more than a piece of old rope. Dangerous, indeed,” he scoffed.
The gardener led his friends to the shade of a tree. “Sit here and rest for the long journey home,” he said. “I will bring you some water to drink.”
While they waited, the six blind men talked about the elephant.
“An elephant is like a wall,” said the first blind man. “Surely we can finally agree on that.”
“A wall? An elephant is a giant snake!” answered the second blind man.
“It’s a spear, I tell you,” insisted the third blind man.
“I’m certain it’s a giant cow,” said the fourth blind man.
“Magic carpet. There’s no doubt,” said the fifth blind man.
“Don’t you see?” pleaded the sixth blind man. “Someone used a rope to trick us.”
Their argument continued and their shouts grew louder and louder.
“Wall!” “Snake!” “Spear!” “Cow!” “Carpet!” “Rope!”
“Stop shouting!” called a very angry voice. It was the Rajah, awakened from his nap by the noisy argument.
“How can each of you be so certain you are right?” asked the ruler.
The six blind men considered the question. And then, knowing the Rajah to be a very wise man, they decided to say nothing at all.
“The elephant is a very large animal,” said the Rajah kindly. “Each man touched only one part. Perhaps if you put the parts together, you will see the truth. Now, let me finish my nap in peace.”
When their friend returned to the garden with the cool water, the six men rested quietly in the shade, thinking about the Rajah’s advice.
“He is right,” said the first blind man. “To learn the truth, we must put all the parts together. Let’s discuss this on the journey home.”
The first blind man put his hand on the shoulder of the young boy who would guide them home. The second blind man put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, and so on until all six men were ready to travel together.
Use this energiser to demonstrate that participants should be aware that others might see things differently to them and it is always worth considering the points of view of others in order to get a full picture of a situation.