” Your word can create the most beautiful dream, or your word can destroy everything around you. Impeccability of the word only creates beauty, love, and heaven on earth.” -Don Miguel Ruiz
The Elephant in the Room.
What is this thing, hanging in the air between us? This thing that feels heavy and uninspiring? Seemingly of its own character but clearly of my co-creation though I don’t yet know how? Why is it difficult for me to be around you, awkward and clumsy in my attempt to ignore or move beyond this elephant in the room and yet unequipped to speak to it? Maybe, even if I don’t know how yet, it will be better to talk about it rather than feeling nervous wondering what it is and how to avoid it?
The Disharmony of Reality Not Aligning With One’s Inner Story.
I have discovered something recently about the elephant in the room that is unexpected and counter-intuitive. It seems to be the difference between what is happening and what wants to be happening. My recent life experiments tell me that inviting my companions involved to ‘speak to the elephant’ is largely beneficial and of a greater good than staying silent.
The Change of Plans Can Be Better Than What You Had Intended.
When I take a chance by speaking about the strain that I feel, more can come out of the conversation than what was possible before. The conversation may not go as planned, in fact I have no idea what will happen or what we will end up discussing, but it uncovers something more real than what we were doing before. When my companion and I are both witnessing the elephant, we have the benefit of clarity and growth. Sometimes a much deeper trust grows between two people when they realize that the friendship can withstand shared truthful introspection. I have discovered the elephant in the room to be a signpost that something wants to be created/deconstructed. This has become a practice in my life; speaking to what’s the reality, even before I understand what that means, rather than sticking to my ideas of what should happen or trying to avoid an embarrassing situation.
Ignoring The Check Engine Light Does Not Help.
If you were driving along with a companion in your metaphorical car of conversation, and you heard a rattling sound coming from the undercarriage or saw some smoke coming from the engine, would it not be wise to stop the car and get your hands and knees a little dirty to take a look at what was going on? In fact, it might be good to invite your conversational companion to check it out as well. If you keep on driving and ignore the check engine light, perhaps you will have a reasonable conversation as you push past the tension, but it may well be your last ride in that vehicle. You could have saved that car by simply acknowledging that it wasn’t running well before an explosion happened. The car may never explode either, it could just stall out one day never to be driven again. Where will that leave you stranded? Is your conversational vehicle worth the maintenance needed to run well?
Your Story is Your Creation; Do You Like How It Feels?
People are storytellers. This is the nature of how we give meaning to events and make sense of our lives. Stories can be fun and uplifting or they can be heavy weights of suspicion and mistrust. Often times you only have part of the story, and sometimes nothing more than a feeling to go on, but if you are willing to be vulnerable and say ‘ what’s that smell?’ or ‘ do you hear that?’ you take responsibility for the quality of your interaction. You offer yourself and the other person the opportunity to speak to what’s real and nagging below the still waters of the surface conversation. Avoiding the uncertain is an illusion. Avoidance lends to a situation exacerbating itself. Don’t believe the ‘curiosity killed the cat’ version of the Blue Beard story… The real folktale is all about being willing to open the little door even if it means you can’t turn back! Our psyche wants us to live in the truth rather than ‘safely’ in the illusion.
Are You Willing To Give And Receive The Magic Of Authenticity?
It is a miracle in action when you speak to the awkwardness. Chances are very good they feel something too, and if not, there is great learning for you. There is incredible power in the authenticity of acknowledging ‘this conversation is really hard’ and being brave enough to find out why. When you are willing to speak up and say ‘ I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I’m feeling something and I was wondering if we could take a minute to figure out what this elephant in the room is all about. Would you be willing to check it out with me?’ This is where the magic happens! Time and time again when I ignore what I feel as tension/unsaid weirdness between me and another, it tends to spiral out of control or snowball from something small into something monumental over time. Frequently leaving things unsaid makes more of a mess and wraps more and more people into an unnecessary drama. Experience tells me that when I am willing to pop the hood open and check it out, I discover that two incongruent stories were in the making based on assumptions and selective evidence gathering. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you but instead you get the opportunity to help your companion work something out in live time. You and only you have the ‘other perspective’ to help them fill in the gaps of what was really going on for you. This allows them to see for themselves the disparity between what they thought was true for the situation and what was actually true for you. I look forward to the day when we all practice ‘not taking things personally’ and ‘ not making assumptions’ but in the meantime we can significantly assist each other in speaking impeccably about a social situation. Why continue to perpetuate silence just because of the cultural meme to ‘not stir the hornets nest’?
Different Types of Elephants; When You Know Someone Is Hurt Even If You Didn’t ‘Do Something Wrong‘
One of my friends had been harboring some hurt feelings when I had not empathized with her on a particular occasion that had really mattered to her. I didn’t say anything and neither did she when she started only opening up to my partner. I figured there was nothing wrong with her getting what I couldn’t provide from someone who could. It kept bothering me though. It unfortunately set a long series of events to unfold over quite some time where passive aggressive exchange and/or avoidance had gotten out of control and I was hating something but I didn’t know what. I finally asked to have a clear with her and while she was terrified that I would be aggressive and angry, we finally spoke to what had taken place a good month earlier and everything in between. The following 90 minutes flew by as the single most enjoyable experience I had had in several months. I felt like I was on euphoric drugs as the dam of silence and prejudice broke. We cried together, we laughed together and we felt bonded like never before. Not only did I feel incredibly validated that we both felt similarly, we had amazing healing and provided for each other a whole new set of questions that assisted us with our individual paths. We now have a stronger connection than I could have ever imagined was possible even before we had our first separation! Wow.
Different Types of Elephants; When The Conversation Becomes Strangely Tense
Another time I had invited one of my intellectual friends over to discuss female-male differences that I had been studying. For the first 45 minutes it appeared as though he was arguing with every single point that I was making and it had turned into him scrutinizing my study for inconsistencies, and me defending my points. One minute he was asking me to ‘own my statements’ and the next minute he was asking me to ‘ not identify with the point of view and speak of it objectively’. It was confusing, tiring, and certainly not the collaborative-concept-building-excited-discovery-sharing I had hoped it would be! It was then that he spoke to the fact that he had a story running that I wasn’t asking him any questions, it was a one sided conversation, and he didn’t feel included in the exploration while simultaneously acknowledging he wasn’t sure if it was ‘true’ or not. Well this was quite strange for me because it appeared that I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the conversation and neither was he! We went through a series of cooperative back and forth explorations until he was at the point of tears sharing that since he was a child he had had difficulty ‘telling stories’ about how things related to him personally and he didn’t feel included because he didn’t know how to participate. This was fantastic because I was more than happy to help him try different ways of participating! Well, we didn’t get to finish the conversation about gender differences but the loving appreciation I now have for my friend and the trust we have built together for being able to discuss such sensitive topics was worth so much more!!
Different Types of Elephants; When Someone Drops Off The Face Of The Earth
My last example was most recent. I had made a connection a few months earlier with a new friend about a job opportunity coming soon that she was interested in offering me. It was in the healing arts field and it fit my qualifications quite perfectly. I was waiting to hear back about the role to be clarified and yet nothing had come of it. I was afraid to reach out and be ‘a bother’ but eventually I asked for a hard and firm appointment to touch base and visit. At first we both seemed unsure how to broach the topic of the job, but when she spoke to the fact that the job offer had come and gone, I surprised myself by crying about it! My emotions clued me into the fact that I very much wanted to be a part of what they were doing, that I had been excited to be part of the team. I had let my tears fall naturally, unsuppressed, and I believe that this voluntary vulnerability coupled with her bravery, allowed her the space to tell me the story she had told herself about me in that position. It turned out that she had seen a satirical comedy video online that our troop had made about all the different types of healing one could receive to get over a breakup in Bali. After seeing it, she had the impression that I wasn’t interested in being part of the wellness team because the video made fun of healing modalities they uutilized. She thought that I did not appreciate, moreover, resented the healing they were offering. What a rude awakening for me! Nothing could have been farther from the truth for me and I felt very sad that the intent of our ‘everything and nothing is sacred’ satirical comedy style had been understood as disrespect. I wonder what could have happened if I had asked for that appointment sooner? I won’t wait to find out next time! What I am beyond thrilled by is we have not only salvaged, but strengthened our friendship to withstand this type of truth telling! Amazing.
Why This Seems Like a Foreign Concept
It is possible that you or your companion never even thought of this being a real possibility. Many of us grew up in families where you let ‘sleeping dogs lie’ and the cultural ‘wisdom’ of our domestication tells us that a situation might get worse if you look into it, so leave well enough alone. But even if your companion ‘bites you’ for waking their slumber, you will have opened a door for the truth. There are many idioms and folktales that seem to be saying that curiosity killed the cat… But for the courageous heart that wants to use the vehicle of conversation impeccably, you never ignore the check engine light. There is no amount of ignoring that is going to make it go away and the only way you and your companion have the opportunity to improve your relationship and move into greater and greater heights of connection is to speak to the awkwardness.
Won’t you try the experiment?
What could happen if you take the chance to deepen the quality of your interactions by deciding today to speak to awkwardness in conversation? What might you learn about yourself or your conversational partner? Try it! Am I saying it is always going to go well? No. Can anyone guarantee that they can control the outcome of a conversation either way? No. Am I happy I speak up now that I’ve seen how it can change my life for the better? YES! What I DO believe is that nothing is worth being someone I’m not. I’ve identified ‘speaking to the elephant in the room’ as a very tangible way of being ‘impeccable with my word’ and showing up authentically in conversation. I’ve realized that by practicing this exercise I’ve increased my ability to speak up and be heard in more and more awkward situations. I’ve realized that ‘psychic energy’, in the context of feelings I can’t actually see or know the origin of intuitively, is just as real if not more real than what is happening. By tuning into my feelings and speaking to what’s alive in me, I build trust in myself and tune my inner compass. What could be more valuable than that?