Monday, February 29, 2016

The story about the Sultan's elephant

A community leader called farmers from neighbouring communities to discuss a terrible problem. They needed an urgent strategy to talk to the most powerful person in the area, the sultan. His elephant was damaging everyone's crops.

Everybody came. The atmosphere was tense and the discussions were heated.

Worried about what would happen if the sultan takes offense at being told about the damage, they agreed that the community leader would lead a delegation to talk to the sultan. At the start of the conversation, the leader would simply say "Sultan, your elephant..."

If the sultan then says "what about my elephant?" the rest of the delegation would tell him about the destruction of their crops.

The sultan agreed to meet the delegation. The leader sat opposite the sultan with the rest of the delegation behind him.

"Sultan, your elephant..." he said.

"What about my elephant?" the sultan asked, visibly irritated.

The leader was waiting for the rest of the delegation to speak, but nobody dared to talk.

"What about my elephant?" the sultan asked even more irritated.

Silence. The leader tried to make eye contact with his comrades, but they were all sitting with their heads lowered.

Then the leader spoke. ", your elephant is lonely. He needs a mate."

The moral of the story? Being afraid to dialogue honestly and to speak truth to power will result in you having to cope with two elephants destroying
what you have built up.

Adapted from a story told to me by a South Sudanese peacebuilder.