Before I start this post, let me quickly explain: “An elephant in the room” is an expression used to refer to a big problem that is easily noticeable but that nobody wants to discuss or even acknowledge. The Oxford English Dictionary credits the New York Times from June 20th, 1959, as the first recorded use of this phrase.
I am a big fan of expression and I think the best way to understand their meaning is to visualize them: can you imagine if you were in such a situation? Sitting with a group of people while an elephant is gently standing in the room, and where everybody decided to ignore it despite how big and noticeable the animal is? That would sound quite awkward and uncomfortable, or even make you think you are not normal, wouldn’t it?
But have you ever wondered why some people would decide not to mention that bloody elephant?!As different as one can be, after all, having an elephant in the room is maybe not an issue for everybody. Maybe among the group :
1) some of them actually grew up in a circus and seeing an elephant in the room won’t be such an issue;
2) some of them are animal lovers and do not feel much bothered by that;
3) last hypothesis : you are lucky enough to be in one of the Buckingham palace room – which have ceiling of 5 meters high and a surface of about 80 square meters for some of them, so after all, the room is big enough to welcome it… why would they bother mentioning it!
On a more serious note : what can sound like a problem for you is maybe not perceived as such by someone else. The best that can happen if you do not mention ” the elephant in the room” is that you feel annoyed about it and start worrying or being under pressure, if not highly frustrated at some point : that is not sustainable.
Perceptions vary across people. Instead of feeling weird or uncomfortable about that “elephant” , try to subtly bring it to the conversation to get a sense of what others think about it. In most situations, when there is an “elephant in the room”, everyone is impacted but nobody really knows how or when to mention it. Discussing the problem – as tough as it can be- can only help to work towards an improvement of the current situation.
It is all about discussing and clearing ambiguity – any issues can be solved if one takes the time to discuss, analyze it and see how to sort it out. Hence my motto is : “there are no issues, only solutions:”
I tried to be light in this post – No offence to anybody – to explain how speaking helps sorting out tough situations before they worsen.
Finally, if you happen to see an elephant in the room and that you are not in a zoo, or at a Natural Science museum… it is maybe worth you mention it loudly! 😉
On an art/culture note, in September 2006, the British artist Banksy set the phrase in visual form with an exhibit of a painted elephant in a room in the Barely Legal exhibition in Los Angeles. The picture I put in this post comes from the site : http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2006/sep/18/arts.artsnews