No More Purple Elephants

Posted by Donna Rouviere Anderson March 24, 2015

Keep five yards from a carriage, ten yards from a horse, and a hundred yards from an elephant; but the distance one should keep from a wicked man cannot be measured.

— Indian Proverb

Security, safety and happiness grow from a life that is balanced spiritually, healthwise, workwise and financially. As people build this type of security daily, a step at a time, they gradually become strong, capable, secure and more creative.

While we as creative professionals seek to tell coherent stories to our audiences, we need to create this type of secure and coherent story in our own lives. We need to beware of chaotic work and personal situations with many unanswered questions and incoherent situations that are not user friendly, that have many incompatible parts or that overlap with unrelated areas in ways that don’t make sense. These types of situations make it unclear what our role is in a creative process and make it impossible for us to achieve coherence in the stories we are trying to tell.

We need to beware of personal and work situations that have no coherent story, no journey, no progress – that are a time-wasting, chaotic hodgepodge of ill-conceived experiments launched on a manager’s or family member's whim with no clear direction or theme. This is the basic definition of hell – no progress from one level to a higher one.

The photo below by Forrest Anderson is of a storyteller in a teahouse in Chongqing, China. Traditionally, such storytellers tell stories from the past that focus on and illuminate great life themes such as loyalty, love and courage. Our role as creative professionals is to, like these storytellers, use great stories to explain and illuminate the great themes of our time. If our own lives are filled with chaos and our own life's themes are unclear, we are handicapped in using stories to illuminate universal themes even though we have sophisticated technology at our disposal to aid us. 

Behind chaotic work or home hells are too often the presence of destructive purple elephants that can’t be talked about openly but that take up time, space and commitment in our lives or limit our creative opportunities. Few of us would adopt a real elephant and keep it in our house or office because it would take over and trample our work and lifestyle. Likewise, these unspoken purple elephants can do a great deal of damage to our creative efforts. The main reason that people can’t get purple elephants out of their minds is that they take over mental and emotional space. We need to face and eliminate these unspoken emotional companions because they create chaos that tramples on our life’s story and blocks its progress.

Among the most damaging of these purple elephants to a creative person is abuse and oppositionality. Many people who would never acknowledge the presence of these purple elephants are in fact oppositional. They can trample on a creative person’s every effort if their influence is not checked.

Oppositionality is primarily an abuse of power issue. A child who is treated in such a way that he is inspired to be oppositional in words and behavior can retain that type of behavior as an adult. He becomes an oppositional abuser, even when he knows he is acting against his own best interests and those of others.  He learns to be oppositional to what he knows to be true and right for him and other people. Oppositionality is a way of life in many work and home situations, to the detriment of creativity. It becomes the purple elephant in the conference room that tramples or tries to crowd out all attempts to move a creative project forward. 

Elephants have voracious appetites and this particular one is fed by an unbalanced life. A closer look at most oppositional people often reveals an unbalanced and thus unhappy life at the core. If they are in management positions, these people can throw the lives of all those who work for them off balance. Nothing creates work or home hell faster.

In contrast to this hell, heaven seeks cooperation, balance and mutual good to create win-win situations for as many people as possible.

As creatives, we should never trust unduly in any system that is oppressive, unkind, destructive or irrationally judgmental but should seek instead to find, create and nurture encouraging, inclusive and uplifting creative environments that encourage each person to be their personal best by developing what they are and can become.