Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

I recently discovered two more types of people in the world, hedgehogs and foxes.

fox and hedgehog

                                                      Image courtesy of

Katherine in Arafura is a fox. The distinction between foxes and hedgehogs began way before Kat shares her foxy life/romantic angst with us in the novel.

I will get to foxes and hedgehogs, but first I’d like to pay due acknowledgement to angst. Angst will no doubt be weaving itself in and out of my blogs. It comes from the German language, meaning fear or anxiety. Sharing your personal angsty bits and pieces with others is risky. What if you put yourself out there, wear your nerves on your sleeve, and no one cares, or shares? What if there’s deafening silence? On the other hand, what if you never reveal these feelings, at least to people important to you? I’m hoping angsty bits shared are angsty bits halved.

That’s why it helps to write. Anne Lamott is very encouraging about finding your own voice as a writer. Her book, Bird by Bird, runs like a therapy session, and I love her for this. She challenges the writer – “If there is one door in the castle you’ve been told not to go through, you must.”

castle door

                                               Image courtesy of

Anne reminds the writer that, “truth seems to want expression.”

We’re interested in other people’s versions of the truth, their perceptions, the way they see the world. Humans like to compare. On this journey we appreciate truth in the form of emotional authenticity, or honesty, in ourselves and others. Anne Lamott states,  “When you open the closet door, you can get liberation, even joy. What gets exposed is not people’s baseness but their humanity. It turns out that truth, or reality, is our home.”

Perhaps that’s why comedians who share their personal foibles, worries, even disabilities and tragedies with us are so popular. They share the common ground, making us feel less alone. Sometimes in this blog I will try to follow Anne’s advice and share, if not the mysterious happenings behind the castle door, at least one or two darker corners under the staircase.

My share for this post? Here it comes. I think I’m a fox, not a hedgehog. Not the foxes and hedgehogs in Beatrix Potter stories, nor Aesop’s fables. Perhaps not even the fox below from Etsy, although she’s very intriguing, isn’t she? Perhaps it’s something to aim for?

Foxy lady

                                           Photo credit:   print-mixed-media-collage-print?ref=shop_home_active

The Hedgehog and the Fox began as a playful essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin in 1953.

Fox and Hedgehog 2

Photo credit:

However, I discovered the concept of the hedgehog and the fox in Reframe, by Eric Knight, who uses Berlin’s analogy to explain different ways people approach problems.

Knight states foxes constantly shift their perspective on the world. They see many different ways to solve a problem, and change their focus until the best answers come into view. What keeps the spirit of the fox alive is its self-doubt. Foxes are never certain they have the right answer and are always searching for a better one. Hedgehogs have a single vision, and usually think they’re right about things. Foxes see the world as many shades of grey (that phrase is really tainted now, isn’t it?) and allow themselves to change their minds. Foxes are more flexible in their thinking, and their answers often turn out to be better because they adapt and respond to new information.

I know I’m a fox but not sure about the better answers bit. I can’t even stick to making lasagne the same way twice, always thinking of possible improvements to the recipe. Should I try ricotta instead of white sauce? What about Mexican or vegetarian style? I replant trees and shrubs in the garden, move pots around, doubt niggling at me overnight that they aren’t in the optimum place. Shifting furniture around my house is a therapeutic activity that can only be improved by moving more furniture around. And does anyone else dither over paint charts, to end up painting the walls a few times to get the right shade?

I now know why I have editing disease. Because I’m a fox. It’s not so much the grammar, spelling and punctuation I’m checking after a while. I’m seeing my writing through a different lens with every read, polishing the dialogue, the twists, the play of words.

I do so want to be a hedgehog sometimes. I envy their confidence, their black and white view of things, their drive, their focus, their structured plans. Hedgehogs exist in a world of less doubt, less angst. Life would be simpler. Apparently hedgehogs know just one big thing. That’s probably why I’m not a physicist, an Olympic swimmer, a church minister, or a world famous harpist. George Bush apparently presents himself as a hedgehog. According to Isaiah Berlin, Plato and Karl Marx were hedgehogs. Shakespeare was a fox.

Foxes, by contrast, ‘know many little things’. Like I know lots of ways to make lasagne, that my daughters don’t eat sultanas, how to transplant a tree so it doesn’t even notice, and my 100th draft is not as good as the 101st draft.

Did I say foxes doubt themselves? I always default to confident hedgehogs, believing they know better than me, at least initially. For example, as a mother fox, I got so confused listening to some parenting hedgehogs debate over how best to give birth, when to start solids, how to settle an overtired baby, co-sleeping vs separate cot in another room, never/always breastfeed in your own bed, etc. I’ll bet my mortgage my lactation consultant in hospital was a hedgehog.

Berlin diplomatically noted one was not more valuable or admirable in society, there are advantages for both. I think foxes and hedgehogs can balance each other out and work well together, if they don’t draw blood in the process.

Once you start thinking about foxes and hedgehogs you notice them everywhere, in your family (my husband is a hedgehog, and proud of it), your workplace, even IKEA last weekend.

fox 3

Coco, one of my dogs, looks like a fox.

coco 2

Getting back to Arafura, I think Adam is a fox who tries to be a hedgehog. He pursues different ideas and needs to think outside the square as a commando, but is still connected to the military, an institution with the strong moral truths of a hedgehog.

Are you a fox or a hedgehog? I’d love to hear from you!

This entry was posted in angst, anxiety, Arafura, personality types, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

  1. Lee-Anne says:

    An interesting, layered post, Susan, thanks! I am definitely a fox, although I’m not particularly cunning (Dr Knight didn’t allude to that fox trait 🙂 I suppose hedgehogs are necessary to get things done. Their slavish adherence to a single goal is commendable and let’s face it, if we were all foxes, nothing would ever be accomplished. Or would it? Life would be a meandering, vacillating thing…hey wait, isn’t it meant to be?

    • Thanks for your reply. Fear not, there’s no mention of cunning in this game of fox vs hedgehog, forget Aesop. As you say,hedgehogs get things done, have the confidence to follow their goals and convince others. The world does need both. Funny how people seem to be so sure what creature they are. 🙂

  2. HazMo's Mama says:

    I really enjoyed this post, it was beautifully articulated!

    I like to think I’m a Fedgehox. The person who always wants to be the other one on all the personality/characteristics tests and thinks that the grass is always greener! Really I am a Hedgehog. Except there isn’t any less angst in being a Hedgehog (or a Fedgehox for that matter), there’s a burden of angst that comes from all that confidence and single minded chase to achieve a goal.

    Though I do like to think that at my best I can be a Foxy Lady……..

  3. rookseh says:

    Being that foxes “constantly shift their perspective on the world… see many different ways to solve a problem…change their focus until the best answers come into view… never certain they have the right answer and are always searching for a better one”… I’d definitely be a fox. My brain place is that kind of dynamic, and I always find room for improvement.

    • People seem to recognise themselves instantly. I gave a self-confessed girlfriend the fox in the photo, and my daughter the fox.
      And I know what you mean about room for improvement, I think that’s why I can’t stop editing. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

      • rookseh says:

        I was glad to stumble on your post today. Kind of reminded me why/how I end up with differences of opinion with others. A lot of times, people I know want a straight answer – which I can give – but I’m all semantics and shades.

        Yay the stuffed animals. 🙂

      • So glad you connected with that post, Rook. I’m glad I stumbled across the reference in Eric Knight’s book. It’s given me more confidence in my foxy doubts, ha ha.

  4. Not sure if I’m either – I reckon I’m a sloth in a human body, and that’s why I find life so perplexing. I’m not meant to be doing things, I’m meant to be hanging in a tree. 😉

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