The “Elephant in the Room” or “Rhino in the Room“, or “Bleeding Elephant Head” (or whichever version of the 1970’s metaphor regarding what is present and being avoided) has sunk to the level of “common sense” (evil) that believes that it obviously represents a breakthrough in locating what needs to be dealt with. It reeks with the feel of “now we have found what needs working on”, and “now we are really going to get somewhere”.
I heartily disagree.
Those areas being avoided that can readily be pointed out and recognized quickly are in all likelihood not the areas of real suppression or loss of power, nor does pointing it out alter the kind of self that is being addressed. (It is instead addressed to the very same kind of self that was avoiding it in the first place.)
Real suppression, real loss of power, real undermining is more like an invisible source of radiation that steadily destroys people’s vitality and inspiration and power. A real transformation in the way someone addresses themselves, others, and life comes from making the invisible suppression visible, and altering the relation the person has with it to one of clearly recognizing its capacity to disable. In this metaphor of a radiation source, it takes a Geiger counter and not eyes to see.
To unpack the metaphor and be more concrete, invisible disabling rays are radiated by things like unconscious notions of one’s identity, the wrong grammar in addressing oneself and one’s circumstances, flattened notions of time, being overly hypnotized by actions and outcomes. Most of these are invisible to the eyes of consultants, coaches, trainers, and HR people. As such, people are left to be disempowered by invisible forces as if nothing untoward is happening. And working on what is visible makes it seem as if something positive and fitting is being done — as all can readily see.
The difficulty is that what all can readily see is rarely where the real action is in freeing someone, mutually recognizing their power, connecting it to what is theirs to provide, and making a timely pathway for fulfilling life.
Let me provide an example here. The grammar in which people live where a subject (person, place or thing) does a verb (action) to an object (person, place or thing — including circumstance) adverbially (in some qualitative way) ensures many things. It ensures a thing-like self, a thing-like assessment of the circumstances, an over-focus on activity (“verging”), and a relative blindness to timing. It also cuts the world up into discrete and separate things — a patchwork of sorts– in which the connections are underplayed or made into things as well. That grammar is brutally suppressive of real communication and hence to real power.
As a contrast, let me propose that people operating with “an open, intentional and connected self, unfolding the relations and circumstances before them into a fulfillment, in and through time” have a better chance of real power, real freedom, and real fit with life. And yet this grammar is rarely if ever declared to be missing. The normal grammar of everyday life and common sense is rarely if ever declared to be undermining of real vitality and fulfillment. And leaving it in place ensures more and more of the same.
A Geiger counter that has an antenna that listens for what is unsaid and invisible yet shapes the environment in which people are being ineffective, uninspired, and avoiding of what could alter that is critically necessary for a sustainable transformation to occur.
Any truly vital and important insight put into the thing-based grammar gets turned to more of the same: a busy person trying action after action to get a thing-like circumstance to turn out — only happy when it does, and then only happy for a short period of time relative to the long amount of work taken to produce that state.
In coaching, this looks like having someone set a goal, make promises, and take the actions to get the outcome to turn out. Then do it again.
In consulting, it looks like solving problems by intervening with the people, the activities, and the results being produced.
In therapy, it looks like having a person say what they are struggling with, and talking it through to give them more perspective as well as a way of coping with the area.
What I am saying here is that leaving the radiation source in place is deadly over time. Leaving the same sense of self, and others, and time and circumstance held in the same grammar is deadly over time. Doing the common sense work that is apparently needed to be done in that same common sense grammar actually reinforces ignoring the radiation source in the room in favor of elephants and rhinos and their heads. More busyness follows.
To put it flat-footedly, much of the work being done to transform the situation and its people winds up being fed into an identification and a grammar in which it cannot free them to do the real work of fulfilling their lives and life itself.
It is better to get them away from the radiation of suppression that undermines knowing their open, intentional and connected relation with others and life and time. Fulfillment in their lives depends on it.
Beware the invisible radiation source in the room. The elephant probably isn’t the real issue worth dealing with.