It’s silly to think about- actually having an elephant in the room. No one would think it’s a good idea. It happens metaphorically every day. Necessary conversations fail to happen for lots of reasons, and the proverbial elephant appears. Along with the emotional strain that occurs, there are lots of tangible consequences. Unspoken concerns, ignored perspectives and discarded emotions prevents laws from being passed, relationships from being built, and the welfare of all to be considered. We love to trumpet the right to freedom of speech, but in lots of cases we really only enjoy our right to speak freely. We’re not so much concerned about listening to other points of view unless they align with our beliefs. This isn’t new, and it isn’t the burden of a few, we all struggle with this.
Isn’t it crazy though? In metaphor and in reality, we know elephants don’t belong indoors. Elephants are meant to be free; they don’t want to be in our rooms. Just think about it, an elephant in your living room. Combine that with the eternal truth expressed by the author Taro Gomi in “Everyone Poops” and you begin to realize that having an elephant in the room will soon begin to stink. Elephants poop, and they poop big. When an elephant enters the room they tend to stay for a long time, sometimes for decades. As you stare down your opponent from across the room, despite your resolve to remain stone faced, you will eventually begin physically reacting the dung heap that is developing. After a while all members of your family and circle of friends are going to know that there is something smelly going on. As days, weeks, and years pass, people you hardly know, maybe coworkers, people at the soccer field, that person you buy coffee from every morning, even they will be able to detect an odd aroma from your emotional aura. They won’t know the name of the elephant and they might not be able to guess who your opponent is in the poo poo prevalent territory, but they will take a whiff of you and know that something isn’t quite right.
Have you ever known anyone with the unfortunate experience of getting a skunk’s scent in their house? I’ve known a couple people who found themselves in this situation and they had several days of unpleasantness. Fortunately, with some vinegar, baking soda and time that smell will dissipate. Elephants in the room are worse because shit is forever. When you allow the elephant in the room you have a 10,000 pound pachyderm who is an eternal excrement factory. Physical elephants can live up to 70 years. The species of elephants that live in relationship rooms can survive for generations and centuries.
Haven’t you been at one of those weddings where there are key people stationed across the reception hall frantically texting back and forth as they keep surveillance of particular guests of interests? This is all to either keep the bride from crying at her wedding or prevent the need for police intervention, maybe both. People’s eyes get big as Uncle Billy walks toward the buffet line and past the table where Cousin Linda is sitting. You see they were best friends as teenagers, then Billy married Ruth and there’s been bad blood since then.
You’ve worked at one of places where across the sea of cubicles heads poke up from time to time like prairie dogs and coworkers instant message each other periodic updates.
“Patty and Stan are fighting again. She’s hung up on him 3 times already.”
“Why does he keep calling back?”
“I don’t know but the phone’s ringing again.”
I’ve been at events that were like a virtual elephant sanctuary. There had to be designated historical data coordinators to collect, manage and interpret all of the verbal and non verbal messages flying around and to assimilate the details for further discussion. The things we give our emotional energy to!
Here’s the thing, no one can be healthy in any environment that is an emotional cesspool. If an elephant has found its way into a relationship you need to confront your opponent and give him or her the opportunity to work with you on an elephant extraction plan. If you manage to do this, then after a lot of work and maybe some outside help the room can be restored. If you confront your opponent and they aren’t willing or able to work through this, you need to leave the room. There’s no reward in both of you drowning in waste. If it’s not safe for you to confront your opponent, you need to just leave and cut your losses. There’s no virtue in sacrificing your future on the sword of someone’s contempt. There’s no room that you can’t leave because there are always new jobs to be found, new relationships to be developed and new practices to be implemented.
Elephant invasions have rendered churches impotent, governments corrupt, and relationships destroyed. Nothing good comes from these standoffs. If there is hurt or anger between you and someone else, you need to confront that person (if it’s safe). I’m not naïve and I’m fully aware that most of the time we don’t live happily ever after. Here’s the thing, the key to peace with broken relationships isn’t that everything gets worked out. That doesn’t always happen. The key is when I am able to voice my hurt or anger, I am then empowered to let it go and be free from it. If I can reconcile with the coworker, family member or friend, that’s hitting the jackpot. One hard lesson of maturity is that you will be forced many times to forgive things that you will never hear apologies for. We must do our part to clean up after the elephants we may be partially responsible for, but we are not prisoners to another person’s willingness to cooperate.