Many people have heard the analogy of the blind men and the elephant. But I’ll give you my version. There are three teams in this game. All three teams are located in different rooms. They are told to pick one among them to go into the next room, observe something and then report back to the team what they observed. The objective is to determine what is in the next room. They did not know that the other teams existed.
The three nominees were taken to the next room. The three men were told to reach out their hands and feel what was in front of them. They were told not to speak to each other. They had to use their own observations. They were not told of the other teams. In fact, they weren’t told that there were two other men with them in the same room. And finally, they weren’t told that they were all feeling the same thing, a large elephant.
So one man reached out and felt a long, solid, muscular shape. It was cylindrical and about 1 foot in diameter. This man went back to his room and reported a solid shape like a tree trunk. It was warm and firm. He said, he tried to push it but it would not budge. Even without his own judgement, his team determined he had observed a tree trunk based on their understanding of what he had felt.
Another man reported that he had felt a solid, hard item. It was completely smooth. It was slightly curved and ended in a point. He could not bend or break it. Even without his own judgement, his team determined that he had observed a lance for battle. They only used their own understanding of what he had felt.
The final man reported that he had felt a huge, round, soft and warm ball. It was much bigger than he. It seemed very gentle, and he felt nice when he leaned against it. It would gently move up and down. Even without his own judgement, his team determined that he had felt a large pillow. They did not use any other input other than what their nominee had reported.
Little did they know that all three men had observed the same elephant; one had felt the leg, another the tusk, and another the belly. When the three teams finally were introduced to each other, they were told that they had all been in the same room. They started informing the other teams what they had decided was in the room. The nominees who were actually in the room were left out of the discussion. Soon the discussion turned into a debate. One team could not believe that the other teams were reporting completely different things. How could their man report a long, war-like weapon and the other team reported a pillow? Soon the discussion turned to an argument and anger ensued. The more they argued, the more determined each group became that their understanding was right. How could they have been so wrong?
This sounds like one of the team building workshop games I took part in at the Bangalore Breakthrough Camp. Time and time again, our teams would forget the goal and focus on competing with each other. In order for us to succeed, some other team had to fail. When all along the purpose was to understand that through collaboration and teamwork, all teams could truly acheive the goal.
Religions are a perfect example of this. A long time ago, the world had a scattering of “sages”: Abraham, Elijah, Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama, etc… I do not know if any such sages exist in the world today. These sages reported to the world what they had observed. It was the world’s choice to take these observations and form doctrine and religion to “follow” them.
Why religion was formed is another post in itself, but the formation of religion and doctrine has caused the world to lose sight of the goal: to understand “God” and how we fit into “his” big picture.