Being a book lover and a reader I probably spend way too much time reading other people’s reviews, I enjoy knowing what other people think of a book that I love or have loved. I remember reading a review of my favourite book of all time, ‘The name of the rose’ by Umberto Eco and I was left in tatters. I love this book and any other novel I’ve read since has had to measure up to it. The reviewer, who shall remain nameless, destroyed it. He didn’t just say that he did not like it but in is effort to be eloquent he pretty much said that any one who read it was an imbecile (I guess he was one of them, and in very good company…). I fought with myself trying to conceive the best answer and then all of a sudden I was reminded of a story that I had read some time before. Here it is:
“A group of blind men heard a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said:’We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable’. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said ‘This being is like a thick snake’. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, he said the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, ‘is a wall’. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope, the last felt its tusk, stating that the elephant is that which is hard, smooth like a spear….”
In some versions of the parable, the blind men then discuss their disagreements and suspect the other to not be telling the truth and they come to blows. The stories differ primarily in how the elephant’s body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved. In another, a sighted man enters the parable and describes the entire elephant from various different perspectives, the blind men then learn that they were all partially correct and partially wrong.
The moral of the parable is that while one’s subjective experience is true, it may not be the whole truth.
So here you have it, next time you are compelled to read a review, bear in mind that we are all so very different and that is the beauty of everything.