Now before everyone thinks the circus is coming to town, and before the calliope music begins making the rounds inside everyone’s heads, I should clarify that I am not talking about actual elephants.
No, as cool as it would be to see a progression of all the assorted Babar’s, Dumbo’s, and Jumbo’s, no elephants were used in the making of this column. Mr. Tusky gets to enjoy his favorite watering hole on this hot July day, while I simply use his image. He probably won’t mind, because I just made up Mr. Tusky on the fly; but we’ll get back to that later.
When people refer to the elephant in the room it is never about kid’s books, movies, or wildlife specials. Unfortunately, it isn’t even about elephants at all, because elephants are amazing, fascinating creatures. No, people just use the elephant’s undeniable size and presence to represent something no one could actually ignore, but everyone refuses to acknowledge for whatever reason. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “If you say there is an elephant in the room, you mean that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”
And boy do we have those today; Mr. Tusky and his herd are circling the living room, and cousin Tusky just took out the coffee table trying to step over the cat. And what do we do? Why, we complain about someone spilling their drink on the carpet and ignore the fact that Mr. Tusky Jr. has torn the door off the refrigerator while looking for banana popsicles. We lock our doors with seven locks and check them a dozen times before bed because we are scared of our neighbors, and all the while ignore the fact that the Tusky twins took out the big bay window because an ice cream truck rolled through the neighborhood, and now every squirrel on the block is binge-watching our televisions for free.
The phrase could apply to a large number of things we as humans try our best to ignore. But when I (at least this time) talk about the elephant in the room, I’m not talking about the big things that never seem to be in short supply. It isn’t COVID-19, because we might discount it, but it won’t be ignored. It isn’t systemic racism, and the horrible effects it has on human beings, and it isn’t even about the economy because red numbers on a bank account balance sort of reach out and make us pay attention. No, I’m not talking about the big things like these; I’m talking about something bigger.
I’m talking about our lack of response to those big things.
The Tusky herd might be doing NASCAR laps through the living room and kitchen, but our lack of response is like a really big elephant — Grandpa Tusky — standing on the front lawn and leaning in once in a while to look as he casually eats our roof. And since no reaction is still a reaction, he will keep eating until he hits the rafters. And it doesn’t even matter to him if the shingles are organic or cage free. Or even if they are shingles because slate would be fine too. And the longer our response to the important issues is delayed, Grandpa Tusky eats more and more until the roof is gone, the rafters are rotten, and our upstairs bathtub is in the basement.
Elephants and home improvement issues aside, there are simply too many things going on around us, and far too many critical issues being discussed, for us to turn a blind eye. 2020 has shown us global sickness, lockdowns on a scope beyond our wildest imaginations, social injustice which itself is pushing pandemic proportions, and a health care system inaccessible to a woefully large number of American citizens.
And to top this all off, the wind vane cherry on Mr. Tusky’s roof buffet, it is also an election year. It's no wonder these elephants are everywhere, because that’s a serious load of unpleasant and uncomfortable. And we’re just six months in.
My father used to say that you may not be able to control the situation, but you can control how you react to it. The trick is, you do have to react or respond because ignoring something until it resolves itself is almost never a good plan. And that brings us back to Mr. Tusky and his clan. Mr. Tusky was a humorous (hopefully) way of reminding us, myself especially, that there are important things we need to consider, and important changes that need to be made. And we can’t consider those issues or make those changes if we are too stubborn to see something as obvious as an elephant.
A better response would be to see things for the way they truly are, begin making plans for how they can be, and to make 2020 the year of perfect (-ish) vision.