Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Elephant In The Room (MY Eng #2)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Last time, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees'.

Most of us haven't encountered an elephant in real life before - at least, not within touching distance. Still, I'm sure if any of us walk into a room with an elephant inside, we'll recognise it as soon as we see it. A big-ass elephant is really hard to miss. Aside from size, it has distinct features and isn't the type of creature which has many common variants (like, say, a big dog which can be mistaken as a wolf or fox).

So what does the expression even mean? To describe something that stands out like a sore thumb (hey, that's another idiom)? Sort of, but the meaning goes even deeper.

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An 'elephant in the room' refers to a difficult problem that people in a group or conversation deliberately avoid even talking about despite its obviousness. Because of the magnitude of problem, and the difficulty of resolving it. So people prefer to ignore it as long as possible. And sweep it beneath the carpet (another idiom!)

But as much as it's physically impossible to sweep an elephant under the carpet, it's similarly futile to ignore its presence. Sooner or later, the elephant will be making loud noises. Looking for greens to eat. Banging the walls to find a way out.

The elephant in the room will remain in the room until everyone works together to sherperd it out. Elephants can't turn the doorknob. Elephants can't read the 'EXIT' sign. Elephants can't just disappear.

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Yet, on a daily basis, we're fond of ignoring the elephant in the room. We pretend that it doesn't exist. We naively believe that it'll go away on its own.

But why feign ignorance? Out of fear ("What if we can't get rid the elephant?"). Pride ("What if the elephant is stronger and overwhelms me?"). Irresponsibility ("Bye, I'm outta here!). The typical reasons for inaction that we're all guilty of, every now and then.

Ignoring the 'elephant in the room' happens a lot in any organisation. No one wants to be that 'bad guy' raising a hand at the end of the class/meeting and causing everyone to miss half of lunch. No one wants to create more work for themselves and others (in case others do the same to us next time round). Ignorance is bliss. Best not to rock the boat (another idiom!).

But if nobody raises a hand to point out about the 'elephant in the room', the creature will eventually start knocking down fragile glass objects, gobbling down your salad, or trample on someone's foot. We can't run away from our problems forever.

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It's always best to face down your problems sooner rather than later. Problems will only grow larger over time, especially if unattended. So ignore the elephant in the room at your peril!

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