In the many years I have worked as a Project manager and a Change manager, I have worked with many people of different race and religions. Recently I was re-united with an Indian friend I worked with years ago in Delhi whilst doing a Software Factory Acceptance Test contract for J P Morgan who had commissioned Tata Consulting to develop a new asset management product for them back at the turn of the century.

My Sikh, Tata counterpart Project Manager remains a good friend to this day. During my stay in Delhi he told me about how Jainism preceded Sikhism and how many of the stories that he grew up with had some been adopted from Jainsim and other Indian religions.

One such story was the blind men and the elephant.

The blind men and the elephant.

The story goes, Once upon a time, a king summoned six blind men to his court to tell the court about an elephant he had in the great hall.

None of them had any idea what an elephant was, so they decided that even though they would not be able to see it, they would go and feel it anyway. All of them went to where the elephant was and they all touched the elephant.

The first man who touched the animal’s tail said, “Hey, the Elephant is like a rope,”

“Oh, no! It is a tree trunk,” said the second man who was touching the Elephants leg.

“It is like a great big hand fan,” said the third man who was touching the Elephant’s ear.

“Rubbish! It is just a big snake,” said the fourth man who touched the trunk of the Elephant.

The fifth man who touched the side of the Elephant said, “Don’t be silly, it is like a huge wall,”

“No, no, the Elephant is like a spear,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

They all began to argue about the elephant and each one of them insisted that he was correct and so they started to become agitated. The Kings wise man stopped them and asked, “Why are you arguing?” They said, “We cannot agree to what the elephant is like.” Each one of them told what he thought the elephant was like. The wise man calmly explained to them, “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all those features what you all said.”

After some consideration, they agreed that the wise man was indeed correct and that they were also correct.

Moral – A little understanding may not be such a bad thing

The moral of the story is that there is some truth to what someone says. Sometimes we can see that truth and sometimes we cannot because they may have different perspective which we may not agree with. So, rather than arguing like the blind men, we should say, “Maybe you have your reasons.” In this way Janism works to encourage avoiding arguments and it accepts that a truth can be stated in several different ways.

I am not suggesting that we all rush off and become Jainists, but I do suggest that we all try to be a little more tolerant towards others and their viewpoints. Ask yourself, “How much does this person really know or see?” I am not condoning anyone who perpetrates violence as a solution to someone holding alternative beliefs, but with a little understanding and a bit of curiosity – we may see the world from a slightly different perspective and that little bit of understanding may not be such a bad thing.

From a PM perspective

Applying this to Project Management, One should not be too quick to make plans and assumptions until you have heard all the various stakeholders’ opinions. Think of them as your team of blind men telling you about your Elephant project. The more views you have to work with, the better the solution.

From a personal perspective

I can’t help but think the blind men were rather too quick to come to a conclusion and if you have somebody saying that it is something else, surely you should seek to find out a more balanced and objective truth.

Are we a society that has become all too accepting of the truth as it is presented? Would a more robust line of enquiry meet with more objective reality? Should you blindly believe what professor Google or Dr. Wikipedia tells you?

My Challenge to you…

Go out today and learn something new about somebody from a different race or religion. Don’t look it up on the internet! Get off your chair and go and talk to somebody of a different nationality or race or creed or religion. Try and learn something about them that is different from you and establish something that is similar to you. You are not asking to argue, you want to better understand the world you live in!

You never know, you could be surprised at how similar we are and how much we all want similar or the same things.

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