The Elephant In The Living Room

When my wife and I started househunting in 1992, we worked with a real estate agent.  He took us to a home where there were holes in the walls and a dent in the oven door (the oven door was so badly dented that it would not close).  There were doors missing.  Every time we passed a hole in the wall, or a dented appliance, my wife and I looked at each other with knowing glances.  Holes and dents like that don’t just happen.  Someone put those holes and dents there.  The person who put the holes in the walls had an anger management problem.

What made the situation even stranger was that there were signs near some of the holes and dents.  The signs said “$100 discount” or $250 discount”.

The real estate agent didn’t talk about it at all.  He didn’t say a word about the holes in the walls while we were there.  There was just awkward silence as we walked through the house.

We have an expression in the English language to describe this- “the elephant in the living room”.  The real estate agent was trying not to look at something, and that was the only thing that we could see.


How do “elephant in the living room” situations happen?  Do they happen suddenly, or do they develop very slowly?  My guess is that most of them happen slowly, so slowly that they people who are living in those situations don’t even notice the changes.

Someone I know once compared “elephant in the living room” situations to the temperature sensation of a frog.  Supposedly, if you put a frog in hot water, it jumps right out.  However, if you put a frog in cold water, and then slowly heat the water, the frog doesn’t notice.  Theoretically, you could boil a frog, and it wouldn’t notice.  (For animal rights activists, I am not suggesting that anyone should go boil a frog.  This is just an example.  As they used to say on TV, “please don’t try this at home!”)


I just watched a 2015 movie called “Whiplash”.  In the movie, a musical student attends a musical school.  The Director of the musical school (played by J.K. Simmons, who won an Academy Award for his performance) is domineering, humiliating, and inappropriate with his students.

The musical student comes into rehearsal, and all that he sees is the inappropriate behavior.  The other students are so used to it that they don’t say anything at all.


I was at the car dealer on Friday, having some maintenance work done.  The technician checked my gas mileage, and he gave me a surprised look.  He asked “how do you have 90,000 miles on a car that’s less than 3 years old?!”  I explained to him that I drive 600 miles a week for work.  He looked surprised.

There is a phenomenon in life that we call “blind spots”.    Blind spots are those things that other people can see about us, but that we can’t see about ourselves.

I’m sure I have blind spots.  I suppose that one of them is that I drive 600 miles a week for work.  I didn’t realize that that was a big deal until the technician gave me the surprised look.


There is a children’s fable called “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.  In the fable, a young boy is at a parade, and the emperor comes by.  The emperor is not wearing any clothes.  No one at the parade says anything, except for the young boy.

Why doesn’t anyone else at the parade say anything?  Are they nervous about humiliating the emperor?  Are they just pretending not to see, hoping that the awkward situation goes away?  Or are they convinced  that everything is normal?


Every once in a while, I see something so inappropriate, or so outrageous, that I have to stop and ask someone else if they are seeing the same thing that I see.   In other words, “do you see the elephant in the living room”?

Hopefully I never become the elephant in anyone else’s living room…..



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