Don’t Think of a White Elephant

Image: Generic logo for an unnamed drug store. Text reads: “Drug Store, Inc.: when you care enough to send the very least.” Meme created at

George Lakoff talks about how the moment you mention something – especially if you immediately tell the person not to think about it – all they can do is think about it. So, if I tell you “don’t think of an elephant,” all you’ll be able to think about is the elephant in the room.

Now, I don’t know if he specifically chose the elephant example as evidence that all the metaphorical elephants in the room we aren’t talking about can’t be ignored, but even if he didn’t, there’s a lesson in there about why telling someone to “just not think about” their depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. will always be doomed to fail. He also used the elephant example as an overt lesson for Progressives that they don’t seem to have taken enough to mind for the 2018 midterms. Progressives, Lakoff argues, need to use their own talking points to their own cognitive advantage. They need to spend less time refuting Republicans and more time standing up for something better. It isn’t enough to just state over and over that they oppose Trump’s inhumane and cruel plans. Because, when they only talk about his position, people don’t really remember theirs – all they remember is the position Democrats told them to forget about! As George Lakoff reminds liberals: if they only oppose their opposition they instead give Republicans twice their voters’ cognitive airtime. Progressives should stick to their own ideas, talking points, and actionable platforms. They shouldn’t mention what they don’t want their voters to even cognitively flirt with from the other side.

Because you really can’t “not think of an elephant.”

Unless, of course, you happen to have ADHD and your office holds a generic winter-holiday white elephant gift exchange.

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