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What Hedgehogs can Teach us about Human Connection and Combating Loneliness

THRIVE GLOBAL — OCTOBER 19, 2020 — During a pandemic, it’s natural that a lot of us have felt lonely at some point. Whether that feeling is from living alone and suddenly having to work remotely, or spending 24/7 with your family instead of your like minded colleagues; it’s all rooted in a feeling of disconnection. In fact, the feeling of loneliness can exist regardless of the amount of social contact you engage in. What most of us don’t realize is that loneliness isn’t just unpleasant, it can also have serious health consequences. According to the CDC, loneliness significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death, is associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia and a 29% increased risk of heart disease.

Although seemingly unrelated, hedgehogs actually serve as a metaphor for human relationships – a metaphor first articulated by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and later expanded into a psychological concept by Sigmund Freud called the hedgehog/porcupine dilemma. The parable by Schopenhauer serves as an incredible allegory for how humans navigate human connection through the back and forth pendulum swinging motion between guardedness and intimacy. In the parable, Schopenhauer describes the way hedgehogs huddle together for warmth on a cold day. As you can imagine, there is a real truth to the saying “too close for comfort” in this equation. Their quills begin to prick each other, so they disperse. Then they become cold again, and the cycle repeats. Finally, the porcupines discover that, by having a little distance between one another, they could find a balance – close enough to share in a collective warmth, but enough distance to protect from the pricks of proximity.