What shape is an elephant?



An analogous parable: the need for multilateral cooperation for a collective response to the pandemic.

There was a strange creature in the room. Hitherto unknown.

It was dark.

In the darkness, they could not see.

So they put out their hands to touch.

Trying to picture in their mind whatever they could feel.

But they bickered on, each seeing a different creature.

If only they had carried a candle, they could see.


One of them was robust and strong. He stood speculatively with a studied restraint. He reached out and touched it.

And made a picture in his mind.

“Thin, long and supple”, he said. The strength of which was very un-coming, un-expected/ he couldn't predict.

Unexpectedly, it curled around and swept him off his guard.


The next man stood there, standing weak and poor.

His hand reached out and touched it.

And made a picture in his mind.

Mighty strong, like a pillar. The strength, so inundating.

“I'm so unprepared, this is going to trample me”, he thought.


The next one stood afar. He walked up and came close too.

His hand reached out and touched it.

And made a picture in his mind.

It is wide and flat and thin. It just touched and moved away.

It's best to carefully retract and close. It's not easy, but it is the best way to protect myself, he thought.


The last few stood there all along its length. Timid, helpless, and far too small to escape its scale.

Their hands reached out and touched it.

And made a picture in their minds.

It's massive, it's powerful, it's all engulfing. There’s no escaping it. Help! Help! Help!


Hearing the others, they even came to suspect,

The other is dishonest, and they came to blows.


Eventually, they stopped talking, and started listening

Then, they put it all together, and ‘saw’ the full elephant.

Looking beyond themselves,

They could behold more than what the eyes could see and hands can touch.


Compassion brings about collective action.

It frees from the constraints of perception to yield a common context.

The context which is relevant to all

And each and every one, together, makes a community great.


‘We no longer can be indifferent to the suffering of others.

The microbe which felled a child, he said

In a land far, far away from yours

Can reach yours today and become a pandemic.


It's no longer the survival of the fittest alone

It's about the fittest taking the weakest along, hand in hand

It's about thinking ourselves into other people’s place

And join in to save the people we do not know, or may never meet.


With the immediacy of the curve of the medical pandemic

Let us not miss what really is the elephant in the room

It is undoubtedly the social pandemic

For which the global community must come together.


In every community, there is work to be done

There are wounds to be healed and bridges to be built

In every heart there is power to do it

All it takes is a heart full of love and compassion


There has been trauma and stresses compounding everywhere

But continued solidarity and support can see it through.

From despair to hope.

From doom to upheaval


The unprecedented crisis calls for collective action

The compassion of one and all

The whole is greater than the sum of parts

And a community prospers when one and all collaborate


Even though one’s subjective experience may be true,

Its not the totality of the truth.

To know the suffering of another being,

One only needs a heart full of compassion for fellow beings.



25 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All