The puzzle of humanity
A small group of travelers awoke one day out of the blue in a new world.
They had no idea how they had gotten there or what they were doing there. They knew nothing about their new world. It was dangerous and scary, but also hospitable, fascinating, and breathtakingly beautiful.
So they set out to discover their world. Each traveler ventured out every day into the world. Then, at the end of each day, he or she would return to their little community and share with everyone else what he or she had discovered that day.
They viewed their world as a puzzle. And every day, each traveler would bring back a puzzle piece.
At first, they worked together to put the whole puzzle together. They were like children: innocent, curious, trusting. They eagerly looked forward to sharing their puzzle pieces and learning from each other’s experiences. As each traveler brought back a piece of the puzzle and passed it around the group, everyone would “ooh” and “ahh” at it. They would discuss how that piece fit into the bigger whole.
Their discussions were open, friendly, inquisitive. No one felt threatened by anyone else’s puzzle pieces. They were eager to learn each other’s discoveries in order to fully understand their world and their role in and relationship to it.
Slowly but surely, they started making sense of their world. And they lived in peace and were happy.
But over time, something changed. They started comparing and feeling threatened by each other’s puzzle pieces. They started believing their individual puzzle pieces were somehow superior to or more accurate than those of others.
One of them put together a few of the pieces, then declared that he had the whole puzzle and that all other puzzle pieces were not only useless, but also wrong and dangerous.
Soon, many other travelers followed suit, until there were several small groups within their community, all of whom claimed to have the full puzzle, the full truth.
They stopped cooperating, and instead started fighting over who was right and who was wrong. They broke off into tribes, based on who believed which tribe had the complete puzzle. Eventually, their bickering turned violent, and would occasionally erupt into full-scale tribal warfare.
Sadly, the full puzzle was never put together.
That little parable may remind you of this ancient Indian parable:
A group of blind men heard that 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, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk.
The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “Elephant is a wall.”
Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.
The Buddha once told a version of the story, then ended it by comparing the blind men to blind and ignorant scholars and preachers who hold to their own views:
O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.
The Hindu scripture the Rigveda concludes,
“Reality is one, though wise men speak of it variously.”
And now, my wise and open-minded friend, I propose to you some “what ifs”:
What if, instead of fighting over who’s right and who’s wrong, we see that each person has a piece of truth, and our job is to cooperate to put the whole puzzle together?
What if, instead of feeling threatened by different perspectives, we were open and curious?
What if, when someone else’s puzzle piece seems to conflict with ours, we would simply be respectful and humble, and admit that we may not see the whole truth?
What if our baseline, default perspective was fundamentally rooted in the humility of, “I don’t know”?
Ah, what a world that would be…
We would tolerate instead of discriminate. We would cooperate instead of bicker.
We would appreciate and revel in each other’s differences. We would study every perspective we could get our hands on and learn from each other.
We would be thrilled to learn new truths and perspectives. Instead of being fixed, rigid, and inflexible in our perspectives, we would be humble, open, and fluid. We would evolve, transform, and progress much, much faster — and all of us would do so together.
Each of us would live our purpose and share our unique puzzle piece with the world with confidence and joy.
Ultimately, we would not define ourselves as “Christians” or “Muslims,” “Israelis” or “Palestinians,” “Americans” or “Russians,” “Whites” or “Blacks.” Instead, we would simply define ourselves as humans — and respect and honor everyone as such.
Mind you, I don’t have the slightest clue how to go about building such a world.
I can only present the dream and hope there are other fellow travelers who resonate with it.