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Understanding the Whole Elephant: Inclusivity and the Intellectual Journey

By Josh Cobb, Head of School
 In India, there is a famous parable of six blind men and an elephant. In the story, each man is asked to describe this “thing,” the elephant. They all go up, touch one element of the elephant, and decide they know what it is.
“It is a pot!” (the head), “A fan!” (the ear), “A snake!” (the trunk), “A tree trunk!” (the leg), “A wall!” (the body), “A rope!” (the tail).

In the many variations of this story, these contradictory descriptions usually end in discord (and sometimes violence) as the blind men argue that their interpretations are correct – “Of course it is a rope. How could it be anything else?” In contrast, in one of the versions, the men do share their different perspectives and come closer to understanding what an elephant is.
I share this parable as an attempt to affirm the importance of inclusivity in any intellectual pursuit. If we are “blind” to the ideas of others and see the world solely through our perception, we will never come close to understanding reality in its totality. The intellectual pursuit of truth necessitates us opening to the opinions and experiences of others, ideally those who are different from us and are experiencing a different part of the elephant. This approach of genuine curiosity will ideally lead to empathy and a greater understanding of others and of the world.
In Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You for Being Late, he discusses this same topic on a global scale: “Indeed as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and to synthesize more perspectives.” Specifically, he explores what Lin Wells, professor at the National Defense University, calls “being radically inclusive,” which “involves bringing into your analysis as many relevant people, processes, disciplines, organizations, and technologies as possible – factors that are often kept separate or excluded altogether.” To solve the problems of today, both Wells and Friedman argue that we can’t desperately hold onto one narrow explanation of the way things work. We must integrate diverse perspectives to solve global challenges.
At Graland, our challenge is clear: we need to devote ourselves to welcoming all, and in doing so, we will not only enhance the sense of belonging within our community, we will also benefit both intellectually and ethically. For example, Graland students take on the task of inclusivity on a daily basis whether in morning meeting or advisory. They begin with a greeting, an acknowledgment of other students and their teacher as fellow human beings. In greeting one another, they value each other and their ideas. Hopefully, this mutual respect goes throughout the day, whether they are discussing friendship, math or literature.
Since learning is inherently collaborative, we have to rely on others to help us grow. Though we could always improve the diversity of our community, I hope that we appreciate and value the diversity that we do have – the diversity of backgrounds, of learning styles, of perspectives. To avoid believing that only one part of the elephant is truth, we should work hard to embrace the beginner’s mind again and respectfully and openly engage with the world. It is this approach that will lead us to true excellence, a convergence of expansive intellect and strong character.

A former classroom teacher and middle school administrator, Josh was promoted to Head of School in 2017. He has a master of education degree in private school leadership from Columbia University’s Klingenstein Center and partners with the Board of Trustees to implement Graland’s mission, vision and strategic plan.

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.