The Blind Men and the Elephant
- Asia, India
- Grades 3-5
- Cross-Cultural Understanding
- 20 minutes
Students will examine the importance of perspective in how people perceive things.
This retelling of a traditional story from India illustrates how different people can have distinctly different perceptions of the same thing. Students will readily see the faulty thinking behind the blind men's arguments, but they may need some help understanding that even when presented with a real elephant, each man could "see" only what he already believed to be true. Use this story to encourage your students to develop perspective awareness—awareness that each of us creates a unique view of the world based on personal experience, language, and culture.
- Discuss how several points of view may impact perceptions.
- Students will understand the importance of having as much information as possible before coming to conclusions.
The story The Blind Men and the Elephant by Donelle Blubaugh.
Read the story "The Blind Men and the Elephant," an Indian fold tale as a class. Read it out loud, or have students read it on their own. Consider acting out the story, assigning different parts to students.
After students have heard the story, use the following questions to guide discussion of how differences in perspective can make it difficult for people to communicate. Students should be encouraged to apply the moral of the folk tale to real-life situations.
- How does it feel when another person doesn't "see" something the same way you do? How can you compare this to cultural ideas or perceptions?
- 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?
- Ask students to write an extension of the story that includes the conversation the six men might have had as they journeyed home.
- Have students write original stories that illustrate the importance of perspective-awareness.
- Ask students to write and perform a skit based on the story. The skit could be performed for other classes, and the performers could guide a debriefing with their audience.
- Have students work in groups of six to create group illustrations of the story. Alternatively, have them use recycled materials to create a sculpture of the elephant combining the perspectives of the six blind men.
- Encourage students to talk about misunderstandings they experience or observe that seem to be the result of clashes between points of view. Work with students to role-play behavior that resolves the misunderstanding.
- If your class is connected with a Peace Corps Volunteer, ask him or her to provide some examples of differences in how people in the host country view the world and the way Americans "see" things. What has the Volunteer learned from these differences? If your class is not connected, sign up here. Or invite a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to speak to your class and talk about how their perceptions, shaped by their own culture, impacted their perception of their host community and culture.