Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How to Draw an Elephant: make others less infuriating and expand your knowledge

My drawing. To see what an elephant really looks like, click here
We’ve all been there before.  You’re listening to someone speak, and in your head, all you can think about is how complete and utterly WRONG this person is.  Is it rude to just interrupt her and tell her that she’s an idiot?  Maybe she’s your boss,  so that’s not appropriate.  Or maybe you’re listening to a political speech, and somehow the rest of the room is mesmerized by those lying lips.  There’s nothing you can do but quietly seethe on the inside.  How can this person completely defy common sense and logic?  It’s like a giant vise is clamping down on your soul.  Take a deep breath, and take moment to ponder a parable while this person continues yapping.

Once upon a time, six blind men in India hear that the king rides a marvelous creature at his court, something called an elephant.  They argue non-stop for days on what this beast must look like.  To settle this once in for all, they decide to travel to the court and rely on the wisdom of the king.  The king generously allows each man to touch the elephant in turn.  The first man feels a leg and says the elephant is like a pillar. The next one feels the tail and says the elephant is like a rope.  The third feels the trunk and says the elephant is like a tree branch.  The next feels the ear and says the elephant is like a hand fan.  The one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall.  The final blind man feels the tusk and says the elephant is like a solid pipe.  The men begin to argue violently about who is right until the king must order his guards to separate them.  He tells them that they are all correct and were merely touching different parts of the elephant.  To know the truth, they must put the parts together.

Do you think you know what an elephant looks like?  Draw one right now.  How far did you get?  Four legs, big ears, a trunk?  Did you get the tusks?  Does the elephant have eyelashes? Toes?  Feet?  Are the inside of the ears the same color? What is the shape of the ears, the back, the head?  How many nostrils does it have?  How are the teeth arranged?  What is the elephant eating?  How does it sleep?  What do you really know about elephants anyways?  Couldn’t you draw a better picture if you knew more?  Say you want to develop an innovative solution to elephant poaching.  Shouldn’t you know a lot more?

Now let’s get back to that really infuriating speaker.  Let’s consider the possibility that she’s not actually completely wrong.  Sure, she’s acting like she knows everything, but perhaps she’s only describing something that is true for her.  It’s not the whole elephant.  Maybe it’s just the little chip on the third toenail of the elephant.  But it’s still part of the elephant.  By listening to her, you are building your knowledge and increasing your ability to draw that elephant in fine detail.  But just because you acknowledge her truth in describing a part of the world, it does not diminish your own truth in any way.  It doesn’t make you wrong.  Do you feel that weight being pulled off your chest?  Can you breath again?  You can both be right.

So next time you’re holding yourself back from slugging someone because of just how WRONG he is, think about drawing an elephant.  Remember that this perspective is helping fill out details in your paradigm of the world and giving you the added perspective you need to solve problems in innovative ways.