From time to time when pursuing our dreams and goals we are often challenged with questions that make us think about why we make certain decisions or think and feel a certain way. Pending on how the conversation is flowing the questioning can sometimes be perceived as destructive criticism or constructive criticism. Destructive criticism by definition is when someone is challenging our ideas, character, and/or ability. Pending on how it is perceived, their challenge can hurt our pride, have negative effects on our self-esteem, confidence and perceived as an attack or insulting. Constructive criticism for the most part, is useful feedback that usually helps us to improve and move forward. How we respond to criticism is where the difference lies. Whereas some people may walk away and discount the criticism, others may say, “Thank you, I’ll try to do better or I apologize for the hurt I have caused”, Unlike those responses, the not so kind person may fight back with words to hurt the person who hurt them or get physical and lay hands on the attacker’s mouthpiece. They may use profanity, send a threat and tell everybody who’s willing to listen. I’m sure many of us can relate to this because we’ve witnessed such behavior in real life, on the internet like social media and on TV. What’s really interesting is asking ourselves why do some people respond with such fire and disrespect while others do not? Perhaps the answer lies within what they were taught on how to handle criticism. Whereas some childhood lessons were about fighting back, other people learned a better way to handle their critics. To that end, let’s explore a forgotten Indian fable the Practice U staff, and I hope will help.
Remember, Lest We Forget
Like most fables, this forgotten Indian fable starts off with the traditional words of “Once upon a time” and continues with the narrative about six blind men who lived in a village and heard there was an animal named elephant brought into their circle. The six blind men were curious and wanted to know what is an elephant? Understanding they were all blind, the only way for the men to determine what is an elephant, they had to touch it and rub their hands and fingers all over it. When the first blind man touched the tusk of the elephant, he said with confidence “Oh yeah, this elephant is strong and smooth, therefore it must be a spear. When the second blind man touched the trunk, he said, “Ooohhh…this elephant is a snake, because it’s long and thick like the Burmese python”. The third blind man differed with both of them, because when he rubbed on the ear of the elephant, he believed it felt like a fan to him. Consequently, he said, “Nope, the elephant is a fan”. The fourth blind man rubbed all along the side of the elephant, and said, “Oh yeah, that’s it right there. An elephant is like a wall, therefore I say it is a big, gigantic wall”. The fifth blind man experienced something totally different. He said, “Naw bro, the elephant is a big tree” because he touched and rubbed up and down all along the big wide feet and leg of the elephant. The sixth blind man touched the tail of the elephant, and concluded, “Bruh, all yaw wrong. This elephant is a rope”. Needless to say, after hearing one another and their 6 different perspectives, they began to argue against one another, which led to criticizing and insulting one another.
The Turning Point
Fortunately, a wise man passing through the village saw them angrily attacking one another with words of disrespect and high emotions and asked, “Why are you men arguing? They told the wise man what they believed is an elephant. When they finished, they asked the wise man to tell them which one of them were right? Well…(pause)…when the wise man said, “You are all correct!”, their mouths dropped. They asked, “How in the world on God’s green earth is it possible that we can all be correct”. The wise man said, “Well…(pause)…each of you touched a different part of the elephant. That is why each one of you are correct. An elephant consists of all those characteristics that you described.
So, what is the point in this story? What can I take away from it? The answer is simple. The moral of the story is whereas individual truth may be partially true, it does not mean that it is the ultimate truth. When we see things based upon our experiences and perspective, we tend to speak from that perspective. Imagine, if the six blind men were willing to talk things through by walking around the elephant together or invite one another to come over to their side of the elephant to see if they would get the same impression they perceived when they touched the, tusk, trunk, ear, side of the body, big wide feet, leg and skinny tail. They could have been a little more sensitive, or understanding and willing to compromise. This would have required some patience that would have lead to wisdom, class, and dignity, not greed, foolishness, and profanity. This is what Practice U means when we say Master a Higher Degree of Self. It really takes practice to get there, to not allow ourselves to be governed by our theories, opinions, partial facts intertwined with our emotions and eventually criticism.
If we can understand that, then let’s make that connection in other areas of our lives particularly when we hear differences in politics, sports, religion, pop culture and other topics. Sometimes, we need to pause and monitor ourselves when we feel the need to prove our point and not try to understand the other person’s perspective. When doing so, we make progress and avoid acting like the six blind men misjudging the elephant based upon our own perspective.
Conclusively, we can all do better if we practice, rehearse, exercise patience or train ourselves to stay focused. This is true in family life, at work, school, after school competition with sports, music, dance, and/or team projects and many other areas. Having this Indian fable locked into our memory bank can be extremely helpful when it comes to criticism aimed at us or others. Give it some thought as you continue to work on presenting the very best of who you are while pursuing your dreams, goals and moving towards self-improvement.