Yes, I know the declaration sounds alarming but it’s time to speak out. Be assured, this creature’s in no danger of extinction and is alive and well around the world. You probably have a few at home, where you work, your church, and a host of other places where people gather.
The presence of these animals is enormously destructive; left unchecked they destroy homes and communities leaving those impacted wondering what on earth just hit them.
We’re talking about the ‘elephant in the room’. Sometimes it’s a herd that invades the atmosphere and once in our midst they can be hard to eradicate. Political correctness, politeness, fear, and pride are some of their favorite foliage in which to hide. They forage for food amidst lies, anger, deception, avoidance, blame, and silence of course.
Like many dangerous animals these elephants initially appear tame and docile. But if you dare reach out and touch them you could awaken a trumpeting scream and hostility that you’d never anticipate. One experience like that and you could easily be converted to join the multitude who prefer to pretend they’re not there – just to keep the peace.
Elephants in the room can intimidate the most courageous, and render great teams and even friendships into ineffective and pathetic shadows of what could be. There’s no avoiding them, they’re everywhere. The most effective way to ‘kill’ them is to expose them to light. Like cockroaches and bed bugs they adore dust, dirt, darkness, and silence.
Some people have befriended these elephants and almost treat them as pets. They come from all walks of life whether Christian, other religious groups, politicians, marriages, special interest groups, minorities – in fact wherever people meet together. Elephant ‘pet minders’ make statements such as: It’s private, I don’t like conflict, they’ll never understand, I’m not good with words, I’m angry and offended, you don’t understand, I know what they’ll say, what’s the point, we’re so different, and….. add your own 😊
Here are five ways to tackle ‘elephants’ in the room with confidence – using ‘truth’ as an acronym. Big objective truth is lethal; little ‘my truth’ slaps won’t make a baby elephant in the room flinch. Jesus declared that “Truth will set us free.” That’s the big truth we’re talking about – it requires courage, commitment, and integrity. The cool thing is when it’s present not only do elephants in the room diminish and die; but people in the same room grow and become more united and alive.
Please remember, the temptation to cherry-pick your favorite aspect of ‘truth’ and ignore the others may stun an elephant or two but the herd will soon be back twice as strong. Here goes….
- Talk. Name ‘it’. That means speak out loud with words that describe what you’re thinking and feeling about a person, a situation, or a challenge. Talking shares how you presently perceive, interpret, and experience the truth at any given moment. And the best way to start is to share how ‘I’ feel and think rather than accuse ‘the other’. Elephants love misunderstanding, mind reading, and assumptions. We speak to share with others, so they don’t have to guess; and most importantly to find out whether what we are thinking is accurate. Yes, we may have to repeat ourselves in order to be heard or understood, that’s OK. Which leads to…..
- Reflective listening. While the other talks it helps to listen in order to hear and reflect rather than to merely defend. This form of listening is paying attention to what the one speaking is communicating rather than focusing on my reaction or defensive knee-jerk defense. When elephants have been around for a long time they’ll tend to herd around the one listening and attempt to block, distract, and belch passivity. Deliberately counter their nonsense with ‘active listening’. In other words, before we respond we check in to see whether we’ve heard the other person correctly. “Is this what you’re saying?” I must confess, I find this discipline a challenge at times. But we can help each other get better.
- Understand. ‘U’ is at the center of truth. Read that as ‘you’. Meaning that to find truth in any situation or relationship we have to talk and reflectively listen together to find understanding around ‘’U’ – the other. That’s a process that can take time and is more than a soundbite. Elephants are mischievous and they will reach out for the low-hanging fruit of platitudes, idealism, interruptions, and misinterpretation. If we allow them to get away with that we’ll give up too soon with frustrated cries of, “They don’t get me”, or “You’re not listening.” We are hearing and understanding when the other person affirms that we have heard them correctly. We may even discover our initial knee-jerk defense has also departed with the elephants and we have a better response now. Which means that we are…… next point.
- Teachable. In order for truth to grow strong everyone involved in our conversation hopefully acknowledges that there’s plenty of room for growth and learning. I like the approach that says, “This is how I see and understand things now, I’m open to be corrected, help me understand what I’m not getting.” Elephants grow big fast and their size makes them bullies and their language of choice is intimidation. They roll in the mud of legalism and muddy the waters of ‘truth’ with compromise, emotions, perceived offense, and threats to identity. Once you spot their tactics be aware but don’t give them room. In fact, if you’ve followed the first three components of practicing truth the size of these creatures will have begun to diminish quite noticeably. By this stage you should be feeling stronger, bolder, and more empowered – greater freedom emerging. And finally…. Take hold of….
- Humility. If you want to annihilate elephants in your space this is a great antidote that will cause them to flee without a sound. Humility is an attitude of being that comes with openness, honesty, self-awareness, and transparency. No elephant can survive admissions such as: I’m here to learn, I’m struggling with where we are, I want to understand, I value you, I’m sorry for any offense I’ve caused, please help me work this out with you. It doesn’t matter whether I’m right this relationship is more important than any issue right now. Humility acknowledges that I’m fallible, imperfect, not always right, and I need others to help me see clearly and to understand more fully. I may be passionate and sincere but that doesn’t make me right. I may believe strongly and have deep wounds from the past but that doesn’t mean that this situation is the same as those were; despite my fears of ‘more of the same’ right now. Humility is strong, it has boundaries, it is not a doormat for elephants to trample upon, and it loves truth selflessly.
Of course, there are many other strategies to fight these elephants but those mentioned above will be a great beginning. Be part of the solution; happy hunting…..
Need someone to talk to, listen, be encouraged to navigate your present and your future? Go to Little Mountain Counselling to find out more. Not a hopeless end, but endless hope.