The elephant in the room

  • Published
  • By Chaplain (Capt.) Damien Gipson
  • 96th Test Wing
The elephant in the room – it’s the thing in a relationship needing to be addressed or the issue in a work center causing friction. Often, that “elephant” is ignored or overlooked in the hopes that avoiding it will completely fix it. 

The topic of religion is often the elephant in the room for everyone from commanders to Airmen. 

“What can I say?” 

“What can’t I say?” 

“Will I offend someone?” 

“Will I get a complaint, or an investigation against me if I talk about my beliefs?”

As a chaplain, I’m a champion for religious freedom for everyone, but not all Airmen believe they can openly express their spirituality. 

Everywhere and throughout military installations, there is a plethora of diverse football fans: some are Patriots; some are Cowboys; some love professional leagues; others love college only. There are some that don’t enjoy sports at all. We work in a diverse Air Force with different cultures coming together, and just like football, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Along the same premise, we can easily have fun, sharing or discussing. Our favorite teams or not having a team. When the topic of religion comes up, it becomes commonplace to say, and I’ve heard this more than once, “You can’t discuss religion at work.”

That assumption is incorrect. Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. For many Airmen, religion or their spirituality, plays a large role in who they are. 

As a chaplain, I see more and more leaders shy away from this topic, but just as that “elephant” is reflected in the Air Force’s pillars Comprehensive Airman Fitness, Airmen need their spiritual well-being attended to just as much as their physical, mental, and social health.

Spiritual health is often misunderstood, so much so that leaders play it safe and avoid the topic all together. What many leaders don’t realize is playing it safe could also degrade Airmen’s spiritual health.  

Spirituality is unique to each person. For some, spirituality is directly linked to their faith and their religion. For others, it’s the purpose that drives them. Spiritual health is the foundation of the moral conscience that drives us as a team: honesty, the fight for human rights and freedom. 

Some believe sharing one’s faith is proselytizing, but if done in a manner that is respectful to everyone’s spirituality, more Airmen can benefit than not. Leaders tend to get caught in the crosshairs of what they believe they can and can’t do. My recommendation is to just use some common sense, as with any conversation. 

Treat everyone equally, with respect, regardless of their spiritual preferences. As we head into the holiday season and celebrate our spirituality, it’s important we embrace the elephant in the room and support each other, regardless of what that elephant entails. 

Whether someone’s spirituality includes Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, candle lightings on a menorah or enjoying the company of your loved ones, take the time to connect with fellow Airmen and support their spiritual pillar.