IC² Institute Interim Executive Director
I grew up with John Geoffrey Saxe’s version of The Blind Men and the Elephant (1873) – hearing the story at school and reading as a bedtime story. The “moral” seemed simple: one must grasp the “whole” of the problem to understand it. Parts are not enough; indeed, partial understanding leads to misunderstanding. Thanks – good advice. But friend and IC² Institute Fellow Dr. Darius Mahjoubi shared the original Persian version with me, providing fresh insight.
In the original version by the poet Rumi, learned men are presented with a similar challenge as in the English version: to grasp the entirety of an elephant. However in this version, the men were not blind, but simply in the dark. But each was given a single candle to help them with their task. In both the Saxe and Rumi versions, the men err in the same manner: each focuses on one part of the elephant and, from this limited perspective, seeks to understand the whole. This approach does not work out well for the men in either version. From their limited perspective, each man sees the elephant incorrectly – as a water pipe, fan, column, throne or sword. Each of these “pieces” could be quite interesting or useful – indeed solutions for various problems they encounter. However, an elephant is none of these. They fail to see the whole, by focusing on the part they “see.” However, at this point, Rumi provides a very important departure from the English poem. In his version, it is darkness and lack of collaboration that hinders their ability to discern the entire animal. Rumi concludes, “If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it.” Each man had a tool that, if used together, would overcome the challenge of limited understanding and all would see the whole animal. Yet each chose to work alone and the light of a single candle proved insufficient.
The IC² Institute has been blessed with very intelligent, experienced, and accomplished Fellows to partner with it on mission. Yet each of us has limited perspective, leading to incomplete understanding. Our Fellows Conferences are not frequent enough or long enough to allow sufficient dialogue, discussion and collaboration. Thus, we have built this Dialogue section to our website to allow our Fellows to “share their candle light” and jointly illuminate problems and challenges of mutual concern so that collaborative solutions can be envisioned. It works by you providing a 500-word summary of a problem, perspective or solution and then allowing others in our network to dialogue with you about it. What could be the outcomes? At times – just communication and understanding. Other times, a new hypothesis emerges stimulating research. But at times, a new corporate action will be envisioned producing impact on the lives of humans and their society.
So, come join us in this new communication experiment – put your candle near mine – and let’s see the whole together and cease to dwell merely on the part.
Thoughts? Share them with Greg and continue the dialogue.