Friday, September 5, 2014

Because Elephants Never Forget

original photograph,

Elephants, despite their immense strength and power, are truly gentle giants, Sure they will use their size and strength aggressively to defend their territory food and family, who wouldn’t. They are also intelligent and playful so why are they the subject of derogatory sayings and idioms?

White Elephant

This is an object that ca not be easily disposed of. They are objects whose costs, particularly upkeep and maintenance far exceed its practical worth and usefulness.

White elephants (albino) are considered holy in Thailand, and are all gifted to the King to be maintained and worshipped. This would make an excellent simile for how all elephants should be treated “respected like royalty”. Unfortunately the history of the term “white elephant” does not end there.

Not surprisingly elephants are expensive to maintain. Traditionally the Thai king, if he became dissatisfied with a subject would give him one of the white elephants to care for thereby bankrupting the person.

Seeing Pink Elephants

First of all pink elephants do exist, albino elephants whilst usually white can appear to be pink. I do not think Thai kings are known for their alcoholism, but why not after all it “good to be the king”. Princess Margaret was never to be Queen yet it did not stop her love of a stiff drink. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was also famed for her ability to consume much more than a tipple. Let’s be honest, she probably lived to the age of 101 because her insides were completed preserved in alcohol. Pickled.

Has anyone ever actually seen pink elephants in their state of drunken delirium? No, in the same way no-one actually sees stars or little birds creating a halo around their heads when they have been knocked out.

But why pink elephants, why not green zebras, polka dotted kangaroos or orange pigs. All of which would be equally disturbing, particularly if flying past.

Elephant in the room

This saying is used when people do not want to talk about the most obvious issue/truth in the room, often in meetings. I understand it this phrase if you were all sitting around the conference table in your Armani suits with your smart phones and boutique water and there was an elephant in the corner quietly minding its own business it would be unusual for no one to even mention it. Surely someone would walk in and ask, ”who brought the elephant?”

But again I ask why an elephant? Surely pretty much any animal would be unusual in this circumstance, goat, horse, tortoise. Even if we wanted to stick with larger animals, giant tortoise, polar bear or hippopotamus, or larger African animals, hippopotamus, giraffe or rhinoceros. Tell me you would not be surprised in you entered a meeting with your leather bound compendium, soy-based-decaf-latte-with-a-shot-of-hazelnut, and designer shoes and their was a rhino grazing on the kale salad. Even more surprising would be if no-one made the wise crack “wow that stuff is making him horny”.

Eating an elephant

Another idiom from the corporate world. How do you eat an elephant? Answer: one bite at a time? Elephants are big and would provide plenty of meals. So does a cow. We eat that one bite at a time too. Normally it is not the whole cow that is on our plates but rather a cut of meat, a steak, some ribs, offal. And even then people do not try and get the entire t-bone steak in their mouth at once.

I want to point out the elephant in the room here and say this is just managers pointing out the obvious.

Ok it’s a big project and probably going to be difficult in parts. Just as Maria von Trapp says “Let’s start at the very beginning”.

Even the most naïve person would not expect that a rock concert just happens, but rather intuitively know that songs have to be written and rehearsed, the stage has to be built and tickets sold.

Projects have to be meticulously planned and each interdependent step completed sequentially. Eating an elephant does not appear to be that organised. We have all seen footage of lions devouring an elephant carcass. It is a random free for all.

Sure some pieces are meatier and more desirable than others. But the top lioness is not scalding the rest of the pack for ripping into the neck, growling “growling start at the tail, finish at the trunk.”

Eating an elephant is just one bit at a time. Completing a complex project is one specific step at a time. Get the steps wrong and it will all come crashing down making you see stars. To unwind from the disaster you have a drink or two leaving you seeing a pink elephant. A partially eaten pink elephant.

If only the elephants of Africa and Asia were respected like royalty. After all an elephant never forgets.

Join the effort

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