Wendy Koenig

By: Wendy Koenig, Mayor Estes Park

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ancient Indian parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. An oft told and frequently adapted story about six people who’ve never encountered an elephant. They, unable to see the elephant that stands before them, attempt to discern what it is by using just their hands. Each, touching a different part of the elephant. Attempting to describe it based on their brief experience.

One person, touching the elephant’s trunk, says, "It’s a big snake." A second, touching the elephant’s ear, says, “No, it’s a fan.” A third, hand on the beast’s leg, says, “No, no it’s the trunk of a tree.” Another, hand upon its side, says "You are so wrong, it’s a wall." Yet another, hands around its tail, declares it to be a rope. The last person, feeling the hardness and smoothness of the tusk, says it’s a spear.

Realizing the dissimilar accounts of their encounters with the elephant, the people start questioning the truthfulness of the others. Civility falls away. Transparency no longer matters. Things spiral out of control. The common good becomes an afterthought.

The parable—diverse people experiencing an elephant differently—is rich with insights into human nature. A powerful reminder about the danger of assigning truth based on a narrow and individualistic experience. The risks associated with ignoring the truth of other people who encounter the same thing. The peril of quickly questioning their truthfulness. Not listening, being civil, or seeking common truth. That trust is the key to understanding the whole.

Drawing from the parable, I’ve come to appreciate how achieving and maintaining the common good of Estes Park requires that every person here, not just the loudest have a voice. That each voice represents a particular point of view. That all of us trust what a voice says. Give it value. And in so doing, we acknowledge our individual and collective limitations in fully understanding the realities of each person behind a voice.

In the parable, the distances between the tusk and tail, the ear and leg are far. Preventing each person from getting a full view of the elephant. But not too far for all of them, if they’d taken time to share their respective truths, listened to and trusted each other, to do so.

Such is the case with the Estes Park’s government. It’s current elephant? The common good of the townspeople in the time of COVID-19.

Touching one part of the common-good-elephant, people call for emergency funding for businesses (e. g. EVRC). Touching another, they want no restrictions (e. g. face coverings, social distancing). Touching yet another, safety and caution (e. g. following LCHD rules) is what they want.

Unlike the parable, here in Estes the statutory nature of the government prevents things from spiraling out of control. It empowers townspeople to give voice to their pieces of truth. Sets times and places for civil sharing the truths. And provides transparent processes for the pieces to become a whole. Trust and time are the key. Let’s grow from here.

(1) comment


Thank you for this story. It is helpful knowing that many people have their own stories that they tell themselves based on their own experiences and from different sources of knowledge/media. These differences can happen even between the closest of people. People with higher sensitivities will differ from others that have less fear. I’m one of those sensitive ones, a blessing and a curse. I’m working on how to be less reactive and more calm during these frightening times. This morning I was feeling the tusk and my husband was feeling the tree. We learned that we are talking about the same elephant but have very different ways of describing how to be safe in the world. There is a Netflix special with Brene Brown where she talks about vulnerability and the stories we tell ourselves. I highly recommend watching this as it will help you to understand others as well as yourselves.

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