Jul 062011
Elephant without the Blind Men by http2007

The Blind Men and an Elephant

A long time ago, a king asked six blind men to discern what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of its body. The blind man who felt its leg concluded that the elephant was like a pillar. Another who felt its tail surmised that it was like a rope. The one who felt its trunk said it was like a tree branch. The man who felt its ear said the elephant was like a hand fan. Feeling the elephant’s belly, another blind man sagely replied that the elephant was like a wall. Lastly, the one who felt its tusk said it was like a solid pipe.

The king acknowledged that they were all right, but only partially so. He then explained that each of the blind men had touched a different part of the elephant. But in truth, the elephant was the sum of all of those parts.

A Matter of Perspective

This is an old story that originated from India. In the story, the king could see the big picture but the blind men could not. While each of the blind men could discern a small part of the big picture, they could not see how the parts fitted as a whole. As such, they did not arrive at an accurate description of the elephant. Only the king alone appreciated how the perspective of each blind man fitted into the larger whole.

It is no surprise that the blind men could not see the big picture. But it does go to show the difference in perspective between details and the bigger picture it forms. In life, it is not prudent to be blind to the big picture. Due to this lack of awareness, we could end up making grave mistakes that lead to needless problems at the worst of times. Seeing the big picture ensures we have a bird’s eye view that is always useful when it comes to decision making. This is especially so in a time of crisis.

The Big Picture and Change

Before change happens, signs that herald its coming usually precede it. But like the blind men, it is easy for us to focus on the details and hence miss the bigger picture involved. This can lead to choices and actions that may not be in our best interests. After all, we made them without a clear appreciation of the larger perspective. And as you can see from the story above, it often leads to the wrong conclusions. Being aware of the bigger picture makes a world of difference when it comes to dealing with change.

The Big Picture and Challenges

In our lives, we are likely to face adversity at some point or other. And to us, whatever challenge we face at a given moment may seem huge. Here, it helps to put things in perspective. Doing so helps us to remain detached and objective about how to resolve the issue at hand. To reach this frame of mind, we need to consider the big picture. We need to see all the events that are happening as a whole. What may seem large and overwhelming to us may be less frightening when we consider the larger perspective. It may not even matter as keenly in the long run. When we are able to see the big picture, we will be able to make better decisions.

Using Big Picture to Make Better Choices and Actions

Nothing happens to us in a vacuum. Everything that happens has a cause and an effect. While this is so, we might rarely be aware of the bigger picture unless we make an effort to notice it. To facilitate this process, here are some questions I ask myself to see the big picture.

-How are external factors affecting events?
-How will external factors and events affect my loved ones and me?
-How am I feeling internally? Am I sufficiently detached and objective?
-What kind of consequences will my actions and choices have on my loved ones and me in the future?
-Where does the path I am on lead to?
-What alternatives do I have? What else can I do?
-Am I making groundless assumptions? Is there any way to verify them?
-Is there anyone who can help me to resolve matters or to provide greater insights?

Taking Action

How do you feel about the seeing the big picture versus focusing on the details? Do you consider the big picture when you make choices? How does it affect your decision-making? Are there any other questions to ask that will help you to think of the big picture? Do share your thoughts and comments below! :)

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  24 Responses to “Are You Seeing the Big Picture?”

  1. I do always endeavor to see the big picture, and usually I am good at it. Lately though I’ve been thinking of something else – what do you do when you see something coming and no amount of striving allows you to move out of the way? I would love to figure out what lesson is supposed to be in that.
    Julie | A Clear Sign recently posted..My Guest Post Coincidences Happen For A Reason at Mazzastick.comMy Profile

    • Hi Julie,

      That is an excellent question! While it is good to pre-empt and avoid needless problems where possible, there is only so much influence we can exert on events. Because so many factors are out of our control, we are bound to run headlong into something unavoidable at one point or another.

      If we have done all we can and simply cannot avoid or pre-empt an event, all that remains is to muster our courage and face it head-on. The goal would be to overcome it somehow and lessen the damage where possible. As to what lesson we are supposed to learn from such events, it is hard to generalize. But we will know we have mastered the lesson when we are able to face another such similar event without breaking into too much of a sweat. This is simply because we have gained the wisdom and the experience needed to manage.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. I don’t know how seeing the larger perspective could ever be wrong. To me it’s very comforting and allows me to be more accepting of the ebbs and flows of life. It’s when I don’t see the big picture that I unnecessarily and unwisely (such a waste of energy) get bent out of shape, sense false urgencies and create the wrong priorities.
    Riley Harrison recently posted..LEARNING HOW TO LEARN IS PRETTY IMPORTANT LEARNINGMy Profile

    • Hi Riley,

      Yes it is true. We can make a lot of mistakes if we do not have a proper appreciation of the big picture. Seeing the big picture helps us to put things in perspective so that we can manage better and make the best choices given our circumstances.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  3. Hi Irving,
    As I consider what to write here, I realize that discussion of the big picture is a big subject. But then, you often tackle ideas that have breadth and depth to them so I’m not surprised.

    Briefly, I’d say that there are situations where it makes sense to focus on one or the other. But mainly, I’m a big picture person. I always like top-down approaches so I have a sense of context, otherwise I feel like I might be making progress but not necessarily in the right direction!

    And in more relavant ways (to me), I find comfort and meaning in what I guess could be called the big picture — or maybe it’s the deep one, the highest one, the ultimate one, i.e. who or what we really are and what the heck are we doing here anyway?! Then all this other falls away in importance except for its value as our life experience… something to be utterly enjoyed.

    Thanks so much for your always-thought-provoking post.
    Patti Foy | Lightspirited Being recently posted..Inspiring Hearts & Helping HandsMy Profile

    • Hi Patti,

      Yes I agree fully with you. Whether we focus on the details or the big picture depends on the situation. It’s just that in the heat of the moment, it is easy to forget one or the other and hence make choices that are not as beneficial as a result.

      I am usually the kind of person who only sees what is in front of him. It has taken me much effort and lots of mistakes to become aware of the bigger picture. Today, I make an effort to see the big picture in everything I do. But by instinct and reflex, I tend to focus on the details.

      As you rightly point out, when we consider the ultimate one, we realize what is truly important and enjoy fully the moments and experiences that we have.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  4. What comes up for me here Irving is the importance of balance. If I get stuck in the big picture I’m liable to come a cropper when I hit my toe against the coffee table. But it is so easy to swallowed whole by some detail or another, or a host of details.

    I think balance in this regard asks that we love the “truth” of ourself more than anything else. Then if we do lose sight of the big picture in the heat of the moment we change quick like a bunny. Thanks for a great post. (And thanks to Patti for her previous comment).
    Christopher Foster recently posted..How listening to your hunches can change your lifeMy Profile

    • Hi Christopher,

      You’re perfectly right. Everything in life is about balance, even balance.

      For me, I tend to be swallowed by the details, this is why I have to make an effort to remember the big picture. When I was younger, my tendency to focus on details and what was in front of me led me to many short-sighted choices that cost me dearly.

      I agree with you. It is important to love the “truth” of ourselves and it is also important to be able to bounce back quickly if we lose sight of the big picture.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  5. Dearest Vizier, I *love* elephants and I love your story telling. Thank you for telling me an unforgettable one. It’s so easy to get caught up in details, so easy. Every day, I remind myself my time is limited, today will never return, stop and think and breathe and remember what are you doing and are you contributing to your big picture.
    For instance, in reading this post, you helped me realize how much I love story telling, how I need to tell better ones to my readers, how I enjoy reading your site and how I appreciate our friendship.
    This is definitely a contribution to my big picture :)!

    • Hello dear Farnoosh,

      We are both kindred spirits getting lost in the details of daily life. This is why it is so important for us to remember the big picture so that we know where we are going.

      Stories are such a lovely way of conveying a point or a message. They weave a picture that sticks in your mind which mere telling of facts alone cannot do. I think you are a marvelous story teller. It must be an innate gift as some of the best storytellers in the world come from Persia.

      I too enjoy our friendship and the banter we exchange from time to time. That always makes my day! ;)

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. Big goals, big values and a big sense of purpose make it easier to see the big picture. Usually I’m more prone to neglecting the real life details than forgetting about the big picture. Both is important, though.
    Alice Hive recently posted..How To Earn MoneyMy Profile

    • Hi Alice,

      Indeed it is helpful to have big goals, values and sense of purpose to see the big picture. But as you rightly realize we need to balance this with real life details as well. Being aware of which area we are weak in goes a long way in helping us to find that fine balance between big picture and details.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. Irving — thank you for this post :) I agree with Christopher in regards to balance. You can’t go wrong with having balance in your life for all aspects…The bigger picture is always fun though. It lightens up the load, gives you a clearer perspective of what is going on and it assists with being judgment-free as you appreciate all the pieces to the whole!
    Kenya recently posted..Self Worth Series: A True ExaminationMy Profile

    • Hi Kenya,

      You have summed up the benefits of seeing the big picture perfectly. And yet, balance is important in life. I would know since I tend to swing to extremes at times. But as we all know, we cannot maintain extremes for any length of time, neither is it healthy to do so, so in the end, we must all return to the point of balance. We must see the big picture and the details at the same time to make the best choices and actions.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. Irving: Great, great, great wisdom. You are so right that we don’t do things in a vacuum. I think it is such great advice that if you don’t focus on looking at the bigger picture, it is very possible that you will miss some valuable insights and message. I loved those questions and will definitely take this advice to heart. Great post.

    • Hi Sibyl,

      I am glad you found my article helpful. :)

      It is not easy to see how everything is interconnected in the world. But as with all things, if we keep on practicing and trying to see the big picture, we will become better at it and more likely to gain the insights that we need to attain our goals.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  9. Think big picture, work little picture.

    Every step is by it’s definition a step. If we see a facet of a large and brilliant diamond, we often assume it looks the same from every angle.

    Tunnelvisioning can be fun but counter – productive. If I were to think in the way suggested by your post, Irving, I would focus on giving the best I could give. I would never want to be anything better than myself because even that is subjective. The blind men didn’t know what an elephant looked like, and still they were partially correct in their answer. The king might have seen the elephant, but even he saw it from his own mind.
    Sol | Some Insight Required recently posted..Psychic NoiseMy Profile

    • Hi Sol,

      Think big picture, work little picture is a great way to define that balance between the larger perspective and details. Thank you for sharing this lovely phrase.

      As you rightly point out, we should always focus on giving the best that we can give and to strive to unleash our fullest potential. There is no other better way to live.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  10. Irving,

    For a long time I never saw the benefit of seeing the big picture. I always assumed it would distract me from the task at hand. Now in reflection I see the benefit of seeing the big picture before jumping in blindly. What is the point of doing a ton of work if you have no idea what you are working to accomplish? This was a tough pill for me to swallow but necessary for me in my personal development. Thanks for this on time post.
    Frank recently posted..What Are You Clinging To?My Profile

    • Hi Frank,

      Like you I started out only being able to see what was in front of me. As such, I wasted a lot of effort acting in ways that was not beneficial in the long run. I tackled the symptoms of problems instead of addressing its root cause. But when I learned to see the big picture, I began to use my energy more efficiently and knew what to do.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  11. I like the story of the elephant and the six blind men. What a great reminder to avoid being focused on our own perspective of things, without considering others. Being able to see the big picture is crucial. Our energy shifts into a more expansive one when we do so. While details are important, we don’t lose sight of the overall picture.

    I also enjoyed Sol’s comment about the king seeing the elephant in his mind too. His picture may also be clouded by his own perceptions and filters.
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..The Practice of Self-CompassionMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      Yes, this is a lovely story even though it has been retold many times. There is much wisdom in it. The way we perceive things can have a great impact on our ability to manage problems. Therefore we must find the balance between the big picture and details.

      And as Sol rightly pointed out, we must always be aware of our own perception and filters. It may seem difficult at first, but with practice we will be fine.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

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