The ancient parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant describes a group of blind men that encounter an elephant and proceed to understand its shape and form by each touching and describing a part of the animal. The story has been used for thousands of years to illustrate the universal reality of how we each uniquely see and interpret complex systems from the limited information we are able to experience — in areas such as religion, politics, medical research, and money.
In many versions of the story, the blind men begin to deeply mistrust the others perspectives and they descend into violent conflict.
In other versions, they stop talking, start listening, and begin to collaborate and gain a more full and accurate understanding of the elephant — and each other.
And in some versions, a sighted man assists to describe the entire elephant. The blind men learn that they were all partially correct, and partially wrong.
When we examine a system as complex as personal finances (or an elephant), it’s not only the visible parts that matter, but also the stuff inside — the parts that move, the way some parts are connected to other parts, and how a change in one part impacts other parts now and in the future.
While we may not consider ourselves to be financially “blind”, there are still many ways that our experiences with money impact how we see the world of our finances. And importantly, how we feel about our finances — particularly when confronted with a viewpoint that we simply cannot understand.
– For some of us, more information creates anxiety. For others, it calms fears.
– For some, numbers and math are elegant simplicity. For others, numbers are a foreign language and a written narrative is more helpful.
– Some think about income in terms of gross annual earnings. Others, only the bi-weekly net deposit has any meaning.
– What one defines as an excessive expense, another experiences as security and well-being.
…and this list goes on and on, to include distinctions based on personality, brain hemisphere dominance, upbringing, past financial gains and losses, educational background, faith and religion, politics, and more.
If we listen to each other, we’ll get the whole picture. Then we can begin moving forward with effective decisions that support the entire system — and every individual that is touched by it.