THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM–and the “uncomfortable” conversations NOT HAPPENING

Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in the room. We all know it, but we can’t talk about it. We don’t want to talk about it, and maybe feel like we ‘can’t’ talk about it as it would be a societal/cultural shock.

Say you swallowed a blueberry—CHOMP! Right from your neighbor’s fruit stand. You break out in hives, get sick, and it goes away, and you are relieved. You may think you got a ‘bum’ berry, or maybe you check to see if your neighbor is spraying chemicals on their fruit. But you don’t want to offend them—or cause their crop not to grow because of lack of said chemicals. But due to your persistent symptoms, you suspect the spray you’ve seen Bob put on his blueberries. Perhaps you looked at them at the stand and laid the box down because they didn’t look quite the best, yet your neighbor talked you into them, saying, “Don’t judge them by how they look; try them! They’re good!” Again, you get sick, and regret buying the blueberries and wonder what will happen when your neighbor asks if you want her to save you a pint of her blueberries the next year? What do you say? Do you lose a friend, or just ‘yes,’ knowing you’ll throw them away?

Let’s go further and pretend the neighbor was a farmer of 50 years, had been growing blueberries for 40 years, and said, “What? Are you crazy? You know I know blueberries! Of course, they are good!  You hear him say, “Try them. They’ll increase your immune system to boot! Everyone is eating them—and if we are all healthier—isn’t that better for the entire community?”

Let’s drill down further. What if it was your mother who talked you into buying the blueberries? Well, you may mention it, but you won’t “blame her” (she is your mom, after all — that’s sacred!)—of course not—in the end, you bought the blueberries. You know, the first time was a bad deal. And she meant you no harm. How could she know? Besides, she knows you ate blueberries as a child and never got sick—(that you know of).

Now, picture your neighbor booming, “Buy my blueberries, or I’ll call your boss, tell a lie about you, and you’ll lose your job!” (OK, I’m stretching here…but I think you are mostly with me) You’d be startled. But your mom said they were good, your neighbor said so, and all your other neighbors on the street RAVE about your neighbor’s amazing blueberries. You think, “I’m crazy. Just eat the darn blueberries and get on with your life. Hassle over.” Besides, Mom said that if your neighbor does not sell her blueberries each year, she can’t send her grandchild to her special school.

Two weeks later, you develop a rash that appears again. You look up the pesticide you heard your neighbor mention. It’s poisonous, and the company has recalled it. Yet you keep getting rashes and other strange symptoms as well, which are the ones associated with the use of this particular pesticide. You realize your children ate the blueberries, too, and they’ve been having unexplainable sicknesses and strange diseases off and on.

It ”feels like” your neighbor let you down, your Mom let you down, your community has let you down, and so has the chemical company. Do you make trouble in the neighborhood by exposing your neighbor, or keep quiet to keep the peace? Mom is concerned for you, and even mentions how often you are getting sick. You mention the blueberries quietly, but your mom says, “That’s crazy! Bob and Betty have been growing blueberries for 40 years! What could go wrong?” We’ve known them forever. They’d never knowingly do something that would hurt anyone.

Then you remember you decided to make some jelly to use up the blueberries, and you gave the jars out for Christmas presents! Oh no! You are relieved they didn’t know the outcome of those blueberries. One of your gift recipients died after eating half a jar of jam in her toast—her husband happened to notice the strange coincidence. Your brain can’t wrap itself around the possibility. But you can’t live with the guilt and never mention it again. Oh gosh, what if they mention it at the next family get-together?

Your doctor scoffs at your suspicions and prescribes two expensive drugs to treat your own symptoms. You ask if it could be the blueberries. Your doctor scoffs again. “We’ve been eating blueberries for millennia; what could go wrong?” He’s right but you don’t mention the chemicals because you know it will sound super paranoid. And who wants to be a ‘blueberry conspiracy theorist?’ Isn’t that judgmental? Everyone can decide if they want to eat blueberries or not—organic or sprayed.

You dare not ever mention the incident to your children. You feel guilty for letting them eat those muffins you put blueberries in. You could never tell your family about the jam you gave them and told them it was “stupendous!” (You happened to know many of them got sick but never mentioned an association with your jam!) You are so relieved.

Furthermore, it’s a deliberate act on your part, and everyone else’s, to hide the facts. You wish you could give reassurance to those who got sick—even those who have lingering effects from the illness—but you can’t. What is done is done, and your guilt and fear overwhelm you. Likely, others may not even know what they are regretting.

Word finally DOES get out to the neighborhood that people are getting sick after Bob and Betty’s blueberry selling season is over—and the neighborhood has finally traced it back to their food stand. They may not buy Bob’s blueberries anymore, but the damage has been done. And they are still talking about how you just HAVE to try their blueberries! Everyone is talking, but no one wants to point fingers at those who recommended the fruit stand, nor hurt Bob and Betty since they did nothing wrong, to their knowledge, even though they could have gone organic and not sprayed those berries, right?  But who are any of us to judge?

It’s hard to offer a solution or reverse anything when no one will talk about it or tell Bob and Betty that people are getting sick. Everyone loves Bob and Betty since they have been like grandparents to everyone’s kids. Somehow, the large, ugly elephant is stuffed back into the trash can in your mind, and you go on in life.

It seems simple for someone to stand up and say, “Don’t eat the blueberries!!” Doesn’t it? But we’ve found it’s a lot more complex than that. The bad blueberries have infiltrated everyone close to you, yet you feel helpless. But you know you can’t fix the problem if no one is willing to talk about it. You realize you could lose friends, family, and other relationships, having stayed silent.

You begin to avoid your friends because of the “elephant in the room,” and you even notice a few uncomfortable discussions at the last family get-together. You don’t want that again.

So, we suffer in silence when we could be honest and open and talk about that elephant–and prevent more people from getting sick! We can’t even offer comfort to our neighbors since you feel like a fake telling them, “It will be OK,” when you know it won’t. You wonder how long until people begin to ask you why you so strongly recommended Bob’s blueberries (they’ve associated bad symptoms after eating Bob’s blueberries, too). The silence is heavy. But it’s to protect the elephant and its owners. And you. But nobody will ever say it.

ELEPHANT. See it.  Hear it. Help if you can. Don’t blame. Everyone had time to ask Bob how he grew his blueberries. They could have researched the pesticide. But they didn’t. Now, there’s an elephant we have to live with. How many years will the elephant have to stay in the room?

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