As a LASIK surgeon, I am reminded every day that we each see the world through different eyes. We often don’t know what we are missing until someone like me comes along and clears our clouded vision with a laser correction procedure. When I’m finished with my work, patients often tell they see colors and can read signs or see details like never before. Quite literally, my job is to change how people see the world.
Despite all that can be done to make the lenses within our eyes see clearly, we also have our own metaphorical lenses that are far less simple to comprehend or to change.
There is an ancient Indian parable, the Elephant and the Blind Men, that illustrates this well. Even though it is thousands of years old, it is just as relevant today as it was when it was first spoken. There are many versions of this story, but the message remains the same.
The Elephant and the Blind Men
Many years ago in a small village in India, a group of elders guided four blind men to an elephant that was standing at the edge of the forest. They were each led to stand before a different part of the elephant — one at the trunk, one at the leg, one at the tail, and one near its long, smooth tusk. None of the men had experienced an elephant before, so they were each asked to feel what was before them and describe it to the others.
“This creature is like a tree, sturdy and strong,” said the blind man who felt the elephant’s leg. “It is stronger than an ox and heavier than the largest stone.”
The man at the trunk disagreed. “No,” he said. “This creature is like a thick snake, fast and agile, and it can wrap itself around a man if it so chooses.”
The man at the tail became confused. “It may be like a snake, but it is not thick or strong. In fact, it is more like a rope than a python.”
“You are all wrong,” said the man at the elephant’s tusk. “This creature is smooth and sharp and feels more like a spear than a living being.”
The four men continued to disagree and grew increasingly angry with each other. The more they each insisted upon being correct, the more divisive the discussion grew. Had they only taken a moment to understand each other’s perspective, they could have understood that each was right in his own way.
Our perception of the people and events around us is always colored by the lenses through which we see the world. Our view is shaped by culture, our upbringing, the events of our lives, and so much more. These things shape the way each of us sees the world, and changes how we perceive our roles within it.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves and for each other is to recognize that these factors that are just as real to us as the factors that impair our eyesight. When we acknowledge our own lenses, we can begin to assess whether they are serving us, or if they are keeping us from becoming who we truly want to be.
Like the four blind men, once we realize that others have perspectives that are different, but often just as valid as our own, we can begin to connect with others on a more authentic level. It is only then that we can understand, and begin to see the world for what it really is.
St. Louis LASIK surgeon Dr. Jason P. Brinton, MD is an internationally recognized specialist in the field of refractive surgery. He is a graduate of Harvard College, earned his medical doctorate from the Harvard Medical School, and is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. He has been inducted to America’s Top Ophthalmologists by the Consumer Research Council of America, Leading Physicians of the World by the International Association of Healthcare Professionals, and Top Doctors in America by Castle Connolly. In 2015, he received global recognition as the recipient of the Visian ICL Young Ophthalmologist Award in Barcelona, Spain, and in 2016 was named Ocular Surgery News’ Premier Surgeon 300 Innovators in Refractive Cataract Surgery. In 2017, he was named in Top Doctors in St. Louis. He is a dedicated husband, father of four beautiful children, and is passionate about his life, his work, and service to others.