The Write Purpose
Published in

The Write Purpose

Be a Pincushion, Not a Water Balloon


Life hurts. And hurt people hurt people.

These two statements are overused cliches because they’re true.

When we are hurt, most of us quickly sprout prickly shields like porcupines, to avoid getting hurt again. But our needle-like armor prevents us from getting close to others, or others getting close to us, for fear of poking others or being poked.

We’re especially leery of those I might call “water balloons,” who, when pricked, explode with a pop, drenching themselves and everyone within a certain radius.

(although, to be honest, sometimes we’re the water balloons)

But then we meet the “pincushions” in life, the people who can’t be offended no matter what happens. And we are astounded and comforted by their magnanimity and kindness.

Porcupines, Pincushions, and Water Balloons

There are a lot of porcupines waddling around out there in the world. Oftentimes, the porcupine is us.

When porcupines encounter water balloons, very bad things happen. But with pincushions, it’s a different story.

But in case you’re interested in being one or the other, here are a few suggestions:

How to be a water balloon

  • have no sense of humor
  • be overprotective of your ego
  • assume that everyone is out to get you
  • believe that you are either a) far better than everyone else, or b) far worse than everyone else
  • hold onto grudges
  • let your temper control you, instead of the other way around
  • pay too much attention to your feelings — especially the negative ones

How to be a pincushion

  • Have a healthy sense of humility
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • see everyone with a forgiving attitude — including yourself
  • count your blessings and forget the other stuff
  • lead your heart, don’t follow it
  • focus on truth
  • believe that all people have their strengths and weaknesses, and, despite everything, are still valuable (including yourself)
  • don’t interpret events too much, just take them as they are (if someone yells at you, you automatically think they’re just having a bad day, and don’t take it to heart)
  • Learn how to apologize sincerely
  • Treat others kindly
  • Be a first-responder: run toward signs of trouble, not away, if you know you can help
wikimedia commons

Learn to be a pincushion

Obviously, it’s better to be a pincushion than a water balloon. But it’s also MUCH, MUCH harder.

The world needs more pincushions. It’s not just that pincushions are able to take the pricks of porcupine quills without falling apart, or even developing any scars, but more importantly, pincushions are able to protect others from those sharp needlepoints.

What would this world be like without pincushions?

But as with everything, becoming a true pincushion takes practice. Here are some practical suggestions:

When you ask “how are you?” mean it.

Take time and listen to the other person’s answer, and ask follow-up questions.

Don’t be nice — be kind.

Find models to emulate.

It’s best if you can find someone alive and nearby, but historical figures are good too. Read biographies about noble people, hang around with givers, find a good man or woman (or more than one!) several years older than yourself and see yourself walking in their shoes when you get to be their age.

By beholding, we become.

And last but not least:

Practice forgiveness

Start with forgiving yourself for your faults, resolving to keep working on it, and also forgive others. You get what you give, and we all need forgiveness from multiple people.


If you find yourself wielding some razor-sharp quills at someone, or bursting into tears like a deflated water balloon now and then, don’t lose heart.

Remember that everyone has a story and you aren’t privy to all of it — they may have good reason for behaving badly. Cut them a break.

That includes yourself. You are responsible for your actions and reactions, but you are not perfect.

As the quote attributed to Plato reminds us all:

Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

Ready to be a Brilliant Writer?

I’ve created The Brilliant Writer Checklist to help you clarify your message, reach more readers, and change the world with your words.

Get the manifesto here!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store