How many times has this happened to you?
You’re sitting at the dinner table, and in the midst of the conversation, somebody pipes up and says, “Yeah, George used to do stuff like that.”
A silence fills the room, and you can hear the dishwasher running in the house a couple blocks down. You silently push the potatoes around your plate, pretending to enjoy the meal, and the company, and the conversation, which for some reason has become even more unpleasant than being trampled by a million horse-sized ants carrying buckets of lead.
Everyone knows what happened. Everyone knows where George went, why he isn’t here anymore. Everyone knows. But nobody wants to say anything.
Your mother-in-law pipes up, breaking the silence and waking everyone up from their awkward slumber: “Who wants pie?”
The dinner continues, although everyone is more somber…And, for some reason, when the conversation turns to the Founding Fathers, and a book called 1984, people say either “Mr. Washington,” or “Mr. Orwell,” if only to avoid using that name that begins with a G.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, JP, what just happened here? Why was that so awkward? And what was with the dishwasher a couple blocks down?”
Well, it’s a little social phenomenon we call The Elephant In The Room.
Everyone loves elephants! Well, unless they're at a family dinner. Then they're pretty awkward.
How do we get rid of the elephant? Clearly, by ignoring it, we perpetuate the problem. The longer we ignore the elephant, the larger it gets! Pretty soon, there’s more elephant in the room than people. Very uncomfortable. There’s no room to move around…Every time you turn left, your staring down one of its huge ears, every time you turn right you’re surrounded by its trunk. Every now and then, the elephant bellows out of discomfort, and everyone in the room hears it. When you go to talk about Africa…Elephants come up. When you try to discuss Indian Economics…There are those stupid elephants again. But they everyone ignores it…again…
But if we talk about the elephant, then there are consequences. The elephant may feel uncomfortable with all the attention. Aunt Gertrude may be embarrassed by the fact that she’s keeping this huge elephant in her house (Incidentally, she’s saving it for cough cough, George, whenever HE decides to come back…). You will feel uncomfortable by bringing it up and embarrassing the elephant, embarrassing your aunt, and embarrassing George about the elephant he made Aunt Gertrude babysit while he’s “On Furlough.”
But that my friends, is another elephant.
“Wait, why was George in the room, JP?” He wasn’t in the room, but look at the illustration on the right, and you figure it out…
Bloggy friends: Look at the situation…Weigh the consequences…Talk about the elephant. How good it would feel to be free of the elephant! To finally say, “Hey, Aunt Gertrude, I know you’ve got this elephant obsession thing, but I’m sort of having a hard time breathing with all this elephant in the room. Why is it here? How can we help you with the situation?” Aunt Gertrude will start crying, and it will all come out at the dinner table that night…
Gertrude: “I’m saving it for George.”
Cousin Cassidy: “But Aunt G., George has been gone for years.” [Sounds apprehensive to say George’s name…nobody’s said it for quite a while…]
Gertrude: “I know, dear, but…but I really think he’s gonna come back soon.”
Sister Emily: “Aunt Gertrude, we all know George’s social habits. He’s not coming back. Never.”
Gertrude: “Well, I think he’s going to be back soon…On his last day here, he told me…”
The rest of the conversation I will leave to your powers of conclusion, and your experience with elephants in the room.