The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life

Research output: Book/ReportBook

303 Scopus citations


The fable of the Emperor's New Clothes is a classic example of a conspiracy of silence, a situation where everyone refuses to acknowledge an obvious truth. But the denial of social realities - whether incest, alcoholism, corruption, or even genocide - is no fairy tale. This book sheds light on the social and political underpinnings of silence and denial - the keeping of "open secrets." The author shows that conspiracies of silence exist at every level of society, ranging from small groups to large corporations, from personal friendships to politics. He also shows how such conspiracies evolve, illuminating the social pressures that cause people to deny what is right before their eyes. We see how each conspirator's denial is symbiotically complemented by the others', and learn that silence is usually more intense when there are more people conspiring - and especially when there are significant power differences among them. The author concludes by showing that the longer we ignore "elephants," the larger they loom in our minds, as each avoidance triggers an even greater spiral of denial. Drawing on examples from newspapers and comedy shows to novels, children's stories, and film, the book travels back and forth across different levels of social life, and from everyday moments to large-scale historical events. At its core, it helps us understand why we ignore truths that are known to all of us.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages176
ISBN (Electronic)9780199943371
ISBN (Print)9780195187175
StatePublished - May 24 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


  • Alcoholism
  • Conspiracy of silence
  • Corruption
  • Denial
  • Emperor's new clothes
  • Genocide
  • Incest
  • Open secrets
  • Social pressures
  • Truths


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