“A snake!” “A tree!” “A spear!” All are descriptions of the same item. Do you know what it is? Have you read Ed Young’s children’s story about the adventures of seven blind mice? Adapted from an old Indian fable about several sojourners and an elephant, Young crafts a wonderfully simple and elegant tale of how each of us creates our own version of reality from our experiences and perspective. In coming together and sharing our stories, we gain a richer perspective of the world we share.
I reflect on this story quite often. Philosophers and theologians use it to teach relativism and tolerance. I have used it in my classrooms to start conversations about teamwork. I have also used it to discuss the benefits of solving one problem many ways or viewing one problem from multiple vantage points. Recently I have been reading several pieces about the power of listening. This provides me with an additional way to reflect upon the story. In both the original fable and Young’s story, the “see-ers” are all blind. They must rely on their telling and hearing to gain access to the concept of the elephant.
I work with six others and together we are planning a rather large project. Let me be quick to say that no one in my work project is blind, nor is anyone a mouse. Perhaps though, we are like the sojourners as we embark on this journey together. None of us knows what we don’t know. And none of us can “see” what we have not yet seen. But we each come with years of teaching experience, life lessons, knowledge, and talent. When we gather to hear each other’s stories, our collective perspective grows and becomes closer to the truth. While it is a bit cliché, I do believe that the whole of our knowledge and talent is greater than the sum of our parts.