I recently discovered two more types of people in the world, hedgehogs and foxes.
Image courtesy of http://www.foter.com
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.”
Image courtesy of http://www.foter.com
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?
The Hedgehog and the Fox began as a playful essay by philosopher Isaiah Berlin in 1953.
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.
Coco, one of my dogs, looks like a fox.
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!