Apr 19, 2008


I’ve been thinking about elephants this week. One story that came to mind was about the Blind Men and the Elephant. For those who don’t know this story I’ll give a brief summary. There are several versions. I’ve seen a poem about it and heard the tale used as illustration in personality test settings, a parable in religious meetings, and in motivational seminars. After my summary I will share my thoughts about inspiration for writing that come from meditating about this allegory.

There is a group of blind men who decide they want to “see” an elephant. They each explore the elephant using their hands – sense of touch. The first fell against the elephant’s side. It was solid and sturdy – so he decided that an elephant was like a wall. The second discovered and stroked the tusk; it was round, smooth and sharp and so he supposed that an elephant was like a spear. The third grabbed the wriggling trunk and announced that an elephant was like a snake. The fourth felt around the leg and compared it to a tree. The fifth one caressed the ear and pronounced it was like a fan. The sixth groped the tail and said it was a rope.

Everyday experiences can be our “elephant”. Each one of us internalize and interpret the same event differently. We use all six senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and intuition (spiritual sense, environmental & cultural lessons, and personal history). When writing non-fiction as well as writing fiction it is important to explore each of the senses to discover the information we can use for our text.

For instance Kerry Blair's blog last week brought things to my attention about cancer that I had never considered. I am a nurse and have administered chemo to young, old, and persons of different cultural background and religious beliefs. My focus has always been their physical well being. I try to incorporate a holistic approach but I am more likely to be looking at vital signs, weight loss or weight gain, lab reports and doctor’s orders, side effects and tolerance there-of. Kerry’s blog brought out a new way of observing cancer – up close and very personal. You can find the full post at: http://www.sixldswriters.blogspot.com/

I’m pasting in the last part:
I do recognize that ignoring cancer is like overlooking an elephant in the room. But in my case, it is a very large room and a relatively small elephant. In fact, I think it looks like this one – about eight inches high and six inches wide. Since it’s made of solid brass, it is a little heavy to carry around all the time, but one does what one must. Here’s the thing I wish more people understood: If I hold this thing up to my nose it is all I can see. Its width and breadth obscure the room and make everything seem as dark and cold as it is itself. Anyone would be afraid to be alone with a beast of that magnitude. But when I manage to push it out to arm’s length, the perspective changes. It’s the same elephant, and we’re still together in the same room, but now there is light, and around its greatly-diminished dimensions I can clearly see all the places I have yet to go.
You’d think, knowing this, I could keep that elephant where it belongs. But the thing I really hate about chemo is the lack of strength I sometimes have to keep the elephant at arm’s length. Then, more than I need barf bags and pretzels and sympathetic shoulders, I need friends who still see me behind the elephant. Living and laughing and growing and serving despite cancer and chemo is the only way to keep the pachyderm in perspective.
Now we have looked at an elephant in an entirely different angle.

Let’s look at a different kind of “elephant.” How about snow? For some the word bring up thoughts of the Christmas and New Year’s season. For others it bring back unpleasant memories of treacherous travel that includes accidents and injury. “Snow days” when school is closed because of inclement conditions brings about several reactions. For school age children it can mean sledding, making snow people, snowball fights, building snow-forts – or a boring day shut inside with now one to play with. For an elderly shut-in it can mean not having necessities like food and utilities. For parents it presents the crisis or child care that hasn’t been scheduled and or the possibility of exacerbation of illness. It can be fun and challenging to look at each situation with a new pair of glasses so to speak.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas you can use.


  1. I remember my mom reading me the "elephant" poem when I was a child. I never thought about applying it to writing before. Excellent insight, Margaret!

  2. We all have those elephants. I'm partial to elephants being a University of Alabama alumni. And we dearly love our team down here. So now you've made me think of all those wonderful days watching our football play well (alas not these days) in the hopes those good ole days will come again.


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