The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

If you know me, you probably know my love of hedgehogs. But you may not know why I call this pocket-sized critter my spirit animal:

“The Hedgehog’s Dilemma” is a metaphor used by Freud to illustrate the difficulties of human intimacy and introversion. The story goes as such: it’s a cold winter day, and a group of hedgehogs huddle together to stay warm. Yet despite their desire for a mutually beneficial relationship, the hedgehogs learn that when they get too close they prick one another with their own spines. The little critters try again and again (with the best of intentions) to warm up, but eventually determine that it is better to be cold and distant than hurt each other again. They conclude that, despite goodwill, intimacy cannot occur without correlative harm. In short, the hedgehogs want to be close, but understand to avoid hurting themselves and others they must not get TOO close.

The hedgehog’s moderation of self-interest and consideration for others compromises closeness for a code of politeness and detachment. In human society we sometimes respond to rejection as the hedgehogs do — we may try and try again (with best intentions) to make a partnership work, network into that dream job, or expand our social circle, but after being hurt one too many times we eventually begin to withdraw altogether. We learn to keep our prickly facade up to protect ourselves, and believe that by doing so we’re benefiting others as well.

“The Hedgehog’s Dilemma” is more to me than a pessimistic philosophy. Hedgehogs remind me to let my guard down rather than live in fear of other’s sharp quills. To use rejection as motivation to create meaningful connections and to strengthen my reserve. To write more. To embrace vulnerability. To go outside my comfort zone.

Because, at the end of the day, a warm heart can still survive a cold winter.

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