I begin this article with a confession. I have been butchering a common expression for most of my adult life. The correct phrase is to “ignore the elephant in the room”. As I’m sure you know, it means there’s some obvious uncomfortable or difficult subject everyone is aware of, but no one discusses. The elephant symbolizes that thing. Imagine an elephant in your living room. There wouldn’t be much, if any, room to move. It would be quite awkward. There’d be no way to disguise the fact you have a large animal in your room. Yet in this example, you pretend you don’t see it. In fact, everyone in the room acts as if there is no elephant despite seeing it with their own eyes, being squashed by it, and probably smelling it as well. And do not get me started on the gymnastic skills it would take to avoid its droppings.
One day I decided to start describing the elephant in greater detail. Don’t ask me why; I don’t know. I began referring to it as a big purple or pink elephant. Recently, I started calling it a white elephant. Yes, you read that right. I had now combined a holiday party game with an old adage. The funny part was as I would call it a white elephant something within me would pause and think that doesn’t sound right. But did I stop and fact check myself? Nope! I only learned of my silly mashup as I was preparing to write this piece. Better late than never, I suppose. But I digress.
How many elephants are in this room?
We’re just coming off the holidays where we probably spent an unusual amount of time with family and friends. The Christmas season is a wonderful time to make and cherish memories. It can also be a time of elephant stampedes. In my case, I sometimes thought Santa should just give his reindeer a break and saddle up the herd barreling through our home.
I may have mentioned this before, but I’ve never been a good liar. I can craft an elaborate, fictitious story, but I do not have a poker face and I’m just not good at lying. A lie never exists in a vacuum. It usually has friends. Perhaps I just found it all too complicated to keep track of, so I abstained. Sadly, my choice doomed me to a life without membership in my local Secrets and Lies Society.
I frequently struggle with ignoring the elephant in the room. This hasn’t always made me the favorite child or guest at parties and gatherings. How about you?
Do you see the elephant?
It’s not as if I charge into the room screaming, “Ladies and gentlemen! Step right up and see the elephant!” I’m slightly more subtle than that, I hope. I’m just usually unable to keep my mouth shut once that same elephant begins trampling everyone.
Confronting issues isn’t easy, but ignoring them doesn’t often help either.
Think about it. An elephant isn’t birthed fully grown, is it? It’s a decent size, but nowhere near it’s adult height or girth. I believe the same can be true with many issues or problems we choose to ignore. Most don’t start out quite so huge. But our continuing to dismiss them feeds them and they grow and grow until one day they’re taking up so much space it’s hard to be in the same room with them anymore.
Do we let the elephant take over the room or show it the door?
There have been many times I’ve wanted to kick that elephant to the curb. Problem was I needed backup to get that behemoth to go. Without at least one other person in the room as tired of the elephant’s antics as I was, it would stay and get even cozier. Sadly, it was me who often ended up leaving the room.
Don’t feed the elephants.
I’m certainly not suggesting going to any event primed for a fight or some kind of dramatic altercation. But being honest when there are offenses, hurts, or issues as they arise can go a long way. I understand this tactic may only work with people who hear you when you speak. There may be some who will misinterpret your heart and intentions. For me, it’s become a risk worth taking. If I care enough about the relationship then I owe it to myself and the other person to share. Keeping in mind the biblical verse of how love covers a multitude of sins (go look it up), I need to decide what to address and what to let go.
This isn’t the same thing as ignoring the elephant. In the case of letting it go, I’ve made a decision to not allow that minor offense or hurt to fester and become anything greater or more significant. I chose to forgive the person and keep it moving. If I cannot seem to get past it, despite time and prayer, then I may need to speak with the other person. This would be done quietly, privately, in confidence, and in love. I won’t come at them in an attacking or accusatory posture. This just puts them on the defensive. I want us to discuss the matter and come to a peaceful conclusion, if possible. I don’t want to add to the hurt. It’s always important to consider what your desired outcome is before you engage. This isn’t a guarantee you’ll get what you want, but I believe when you’re intentional, prayerful and dealing with someone with similar regard for you, it is possible. The conversation may be uncomfortable. It may get worse before it gets better. But one thing is for certain, if the problem isn’t addressed early, it’s highly unlikely to get better at all.
These are not easy practices to adopt, particularly if you’re accustomed to pretending nothing is wrong. But I believe we don’t do ourselves any good and may cause harm by not living honestly. I can only speak from my own experiences. There are some elephants who consumed too much of my time and relationships. I can’t get them back. But I can learn and not repeat the decisions of yesterday which allowed the elephants to thrive. Elephants are beautiful, majestic creatures, but they belong in the wild, not on your sofa.
Until next time: stay happy, stay healthy, stay in the know.
Look forward to hearing from you,