The Blind Men and the Elephant
There’s a great parable I’ve heard several times about a group of blind men who encounter an elephant for the first time . Each man feels a different part of the elephant’s body, but only one part. The men describe what the elephant resembles based on what he can feel.
The man touching the trunk says it’s like a snake.
The man touching the ear says it’s like a fan.
The man touching the body says it’s like a wall.
The man touching a leg says it’s like a tree.
The man touching the tail says it’s like a rope.
The man touching the husk says it’s smooth like a spear.
Who is right?
All of them, and none of them.
The parable in its many forms has been used to convey a range of lessons. The most basic lesson is that each person’s subjective experience may be true, but that experience isn’t the totality of the truth.
This parable has been in the Buddhist texts for thousands of years, and it’s just as relevant today as it ever was.
Just look around at what’s happening in the world. Every conflict is a version of this parable.
Blind men don’t have a monopoly on being blind.
How to Handle Conflicting Advice
The world is full of people who claim to be “experts” in various fields and who are ready to give you advice. If you want to learn about anything you only need to do a quick search online to find dozens of people ready to tell you what you need to know and how to do what you want to do.
Life, and it’s various parts (productivity, relationships, business, health, fitness, the human body, etc) is an elephant and we are all blind men trying with our hand one one part trying to define it in its totality.
Many of the experts offer conflicting advice. How do you know who’s right? Who is telling the truth?
Like the blind men describing the elephant, they may all be right to a degree. There’s rarely just one way.
If you were conditioned to believe that there is always the right way or the right answer, this might be a source of anxiety for you.
When I get overwhelmed by conflicting advice it helps me to remember this parable and remind myself that people give advice based on their experience and what they can see.
The question is not “who’s right?” but rather “what works best for you based on where you are right now?” (Recognizing that even what works best for you has no absolute “right” answer).
That’s not something an outside “expert” can tell you. It’s something you need to determine on your own based on experiment and observation.
Ultimately the most important expert on what works best for you is you.