This is a classic poem by Rumi that applies to our experiences of the COVID-19 epidemic. The poem uses analogy to compare the attitude of people who insist that “I am right, and you are wrong,” with people feeling different parts of a whole elephant. Each person believes they know it all, but in reality, only senses a part of the truth. Ask yourself, “What is the elephant to me?” No matter what each of us sees the elephant as, the poem speaks to a greater whole that expands beyond each of our own perspectives, a greater whole that we often ignore because we are so fixated with our own experiences and very difficult problems. We hope reading this poem helps all of us to humbly reflect, think flexibly, and ponder other points of view during these difficult times.
Elephant in the Dark
Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
“A water-pipe kind of creature.”
Another, the ear. “A very strong, always moving
back and forth, fan-animal.”
Another, the leg. “I find it still,
like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back.
“A leathery throne.”
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk.
“A rounded sword made of porcelain.”
He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are
how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together,
we could see it.
For parents of our younger audience, we recommend the following books to teach about other’s perspectives:
- They all Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel: A cat walks through the world and each animal views the cat from a different perspective. This book has beautiful illustrations!
- Duck! Rabbit! By Krouse Rosenthal: The narrators of the book debate whether the creature they see is a rabbit or a duck. It is a great book for understanding mental images and seeing from multiple perspectives.
- Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young: This is a young child-friendly adaption of Rumi’s Elephant in the dark poem. You can use the “mouse moral” at the end of the book to start a deep discussion with your child!