They wanted to know the truth, so who could blame them? The man stood naked in the middle of the room. A voice from outside said, “The truth is a man as described by three blind elephants.” Immediately, the man walked toward one wall of the room, turned to face it and waited patiently.
The first elephant lumbered forward and patted the man’s head with his trunk. “A man,” he trumpeted, “is merely another term for a coconut. It is round and hairy, exactly like a coconut.”
After the first elephant retreated, confident in his opinion, the second elephant stepped forward loudly, determined to either verify or contradict this bit of truth. Using his trunk he touched the man and shook his head. “No, a man is an unusual tree, one with a flat side. Perhaps it is already turned into wooden planks.” He was the most opinionated of the elephants. He snorted, eager for further debate.
The third elephant pounded the ground and approached the man. He thrust his trunk forward, moved it to one side and announced his opinion: “A man is a tree, yes, built on two trunks that split.”
Now, having been outvoted, even though there was not precise agreement between the second two elephants, the first beast stormed back to feel the man again. The man, by this time, had turned around and faced the elephants for these second observations.
After making his examination, the elephant smiled a little. “A man may be a tree, possibly even a coconut tree, but I’ve found that he has two limbs that stick out to the side. They are bare limbs, and on the end of them are tiny, empty branches.
The second elephant who had first presented the idea that a man was a type of tree came forward once again, moved his trunk and stepped back, ready to deepen their understanding of man. “We all seem to agree that a man must be a tree. But barren? No, not barren. And not a coconut tree. Tree bears small fruit, like kiwis. Yes, they have hair on them, and when I touched them, the man, the tree, made a noise full of terror.”
The third elephant came forward for the last time. After a brief search he said, “I have felt the base of the man. If it is a tree, its roots are short and do not penetrate the earth. Or perhaps it has dropped its small fruit to the ground, though they were no longer hairy. And when I touched them, the noise was not terrible, but delightful: laughing and pleasure.”
Three blind elephants stood in frustration and regarded themselves with snuffs and grunts. It may be because they were all males, or blinded by their pursuit of truth. Finally the man read the entry on Wikipedia and saw he’d gotten the whole thing backwards.
Matt Kolbet teaches and writes near Portland, Oregon.