As a religion, Jainism is older than Christianity.

But, in my opinion, it’s considerably more enlightened.

One of the main teachings of Jainism is that all truth is relative.

The limitations of human beings means that no one can ever know the whole truth about anything.

Just the truth from their perspective.

This is illustrated by the parable of five blind men walking into an elephant.

They try to describe what they’ve bumped into.

One blind man feels the side of the elephant.

He says “An elephant is like a wall.”

Another blind man feels the elephant’s trunk.

He says “No, an elephant is like a snake.”

The third blind man feels the leg.

He says “You’re both wrong, an elephant is like a tree.”

The fourth blind man feels the tusk.

He says “Sorry, but an elephant is like a spear.”

The fifth blind man feels the tail.

He says “You’re all wrong, an elephant is like a piece of rope.”

All the blind men mistake their little bit of truth for the whole truth.

This is what we all do, we can’t help it.

Daniel Kahneman called this ‘framing’.

He demonstrated that we can reverse someone’s preference by presenting the same facts in different ways.

In an experiment he asked participants to imagine an outbreak of disease that was expected to kill 600 people.

He gave them a choice:

Option A – 200 people will definitely be saved.

Option B – 1/3 probability all will be saved, 2/3 probability no one will be saved.

When asked, 75% of people chose option A.

The second group had the same choice presented differently.

Option C – 400 people will definitely die.

Option D – 1/3 probability no one will die, 2/3 probability everyone will die.

This time the preference was reversed, 75% of people chose option D.

Even though options A & C are the same, and options B & D are the same.

By ‘reframing’ the identical facts he made the choice appear totally different.

Seth Godin calls this the “compared to what?” syndrome.

Humans don’t think in limbo.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

The answer is always “compared to what?”

The glass is half empty if the person next to us has a full glass.

The glass is half full if the person next to us has an empty glass.

We live our lives in a constant state of comparison.

So constant that we don’t even notice it.

And yet that should be the main purpose of planning and research.


What is the context we are speaking into?

What is the context we want to create?

As Kahneman demonstrated, if we control the context we control the choice.

Surely that’s our job.

To understand what creates opinion, in order to control opinion.

As Democritus said over 2,000 years ago “All there is in the universe is atoms and void. Everything else is mere opinion.”

  • Peter Rufus

    Dave please bear with me as I try to get this across.

    By claiming that everyone only has fragments of truth you are inadvertently claiming to know
    what the whole truth looks like.

    Because the only way to tell a fragment from the whole is to know what the whole looks like.

    So the only way to tell that each of the blind men only has part of the story right is if you can
    see the whole elephant yourself.

    In other words, by claiming that nobody has complete knowledge, you are inadvertently claiming
    to have full knowledge yourself.

    So what starts out seeming like a pretty inclusive, humble way of seeing things actually turns out
    to be quite exclusive and arrogant.

    Not very enlightened.

    Take the proposition you cited ––– “All truth is relative.”

    Let’s call it “A”.

    So, is A true – i.e. is all truth actually relative?

    Actually, no.

    It can’t be.

    Because A is actually a truth claim in itself.

    So if A is actually true, then all truth – including the proposition A itself – is relative.

    Meaning, A is rendered invalid as a truth proposition because it contradicts itself.

    Again, not very enlightened.

    Just poor logic.

    I’m not having a go at you.

    Just want to highlight a critical error that so many in the West, in their eagerness to appear inclusive
    and non-dogmatic, just don’t seem to appreciate.

    The error, simply, is this.

    To insist on non-dogmatism is to be dogmatic.

    To insist on inclusivity is to be exclusive.

    To insist that nothing is true, is to proclaim truth itself.

  • Dave Trott

    That makes perfect sense Peter.
    But I can know I don’t know without knowing exactly what it is I don’t know.
    I can accept the elephant isn’t a snake or a tree without knowing exactly what it is.
    According to Plato’s cave we can never know exactly what truth is.
    Now is that itself a truth?
    If it is it’s a paradox.
    This may be the limitations of human reasoning (language).
    This may be what Kant resolved with ‘the synthetic a priori’.
    Plus, I went to art school (inductive thinking) not university (deductive thinking).
    So it’s far less important to me to be right than interesting.
    But thanks for taking the time to write that.
    It really did make me think.


    • Robert Scott

      It is entirely consistent with logic to make a claim about a set, without that claim extending beyond the set. Everything inside this set is “relative” or “X” doesn’t mean the statement about the set is subject to the characteristic of the set itself.

  • Sventana

    I’m sorry Dave but I don’t agree that the well known elephant parable illustrates the concept of framing

    While relatively new to the world of advertising , framing is the basic tool in of the PR practitioner’s persuasion toolkit

    But there’s nothing mysterious or clever about framing.

    It’s simply the expression of a different perspective on a situation – one that suits your persuasive purposes

Campaign Jobs