Bang #4, photograph by Nikita
I recently came across an interesting analogy while surfing around the internet. For a moment, consider the spiny little problems that face the lowly hedgehog:
The hedgehog’s dilemma, or sometimes the porcupine dilemma, is an analogy about the challenges of human intimacy. It describes a situation in which a group of hedgehogs all seek to become close to one another in order to share their heat during cold weather. However, once accomplished, they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp quills. They must step away from one another. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur for reasons which they cannot avoid.
Both Arthur Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud have used this situation to describe what they feel is the state an individual will find themselves in relation to others. The hedgehog’s dilemma suggests that despite goodwill, human intimacy cannot occur without substantial mutual harm, and what results is cautious behavior and weak relationships. With the hedgehog’s dilemma one is recommended to use moderation in affairs with others both because of self-interest, as well as out of consideration for others. The hedgehog’s dilemma is used to justify or explain introversion and isolationism.
In trying to explain this idea to others in my day to day I have been met with a lot of different opinions on it, so I thought it would make for an interesting blog entry. My friend John described it as an extremely cynical view on human relations. His argument was that it is entirely normal and natural to encounter differences of opinion and personality when growing close with another person, and that those emotional or ideological “quills” should be embraced. You can grow alongside that person, as they can grow together with you. More of a constructive approach to painful differences.
I can’t say I totally agree with him. I think that some differences can be overcome, but some differences cannot.
If you wish to know and share the good times with another human being you must be prepared to face down the bad. I think that’s the sign of a weak relationship between anyone romantically involved; if things start to get too real or too painful its always easy to just walk away to relieve the pain, despite the comforts that a shared intimacy can bring.