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Must Read: A life lesson from porcupines

Last updated on: November 6, 2012 12:30 IST

Must Read: A life lesson from porcupines

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They appear harmless, but when provoked, all those 30,000 quills are quickly out to get you! Prakash Iyer, Executive Coach and MD, Kimberley-Clark-Lever tells us what we can learn from them.

Porcupines are fascinating creatures.

Hard to believe, but porcupines have on an average about 30,000 quills. These are really like their hair -- but when attacked, the porcupine responds by backing into the enemy and several of these quills just get stuck into the attacker's body, causing serious injury.

I often think we all know of people who take after the porcupine! They appear harmless - but when provoked -- boy, all those quills are quickly out to get you!

An interesting story from the world of porcupines holds a great lesson for all of us.

The story goes that it was a particularly harrowing time in porcupine land. The winter was severe, and the porcupines were finding it difficult to survive, and freezing to death. That's when the porcupines decided to meet and agree on a course of action.

As they got together to discuss their survival strategy, they discovered that just by being close to each other they were able to feel warmer and protect each other. Being closeted together meant that their bodies generated heat which helped keep everybody warm. So they found they could survive the cold by just staying together.

But there was a problem. As they got closer to each other, they found their quills would poke and hurt. Feeling the discomfort, some porcupines decided to avoid the pain and moved away. But as they went out, the cold got them and they died.

Soon better sense prevailed, and the porcupines realised it was better to stay together and survive rather than go out on their own and die. Getting poked by the quills seemed like a small price to pay for survival.

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Image: Porcupines teach you to ignore your pain for the larger good.
Photographs: Getty Images and (inset) Careers360

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If you think about the groups we live and work in -- our friends and our families and our organisations -- you will find that the porcupine story strikes a chord.

Often, we get hurt by the words and acts of people close to us. And we move away in anger, not realising that being away -- and alone -- could mean paying a bigger price.

Notice how families split, brothers fight and friends break up because of small differences -- the odd porcupine prick. We all seem to think that going away would mean the end of our troubles. No more quill pricks, we tell ourselves. But we seldom realise that going away often marks the beginning of new troubles, bigger challenges.

It is significant that the porcupines feel the pain of the quills only from the porcupines that are closest to them. That's true for humans too.

The porcupine that's far from us -- doesn't hurt us. And nor does it provide the warmth we so badly need in the winter of our life.

Good to remember then that in life, the little heartaches and the odd discomfort and pain may be caused by the ones closest to us -- but they are the ones who give us warmth and help us survive!

A parent or mentor might say something that hurts us.

A dear friend's actions might occasionally cause some pain. And in such cases, it is often tempting to severe ties, break free and escape into a world where we feel we won't be subject to such pain.

We don't realise that their warmth could someday mean the difference between life and death. The ones closest to us might hurt us sometimes, but they will eventually be around to help when us we need them!

We often believe that great teams are made up of perfectly compatible folks, and all the team mates gel well together. That is seldom the case.

It is usually about learning to live with the other person's imperfections -- quills and all -- and looking at the good they can do, and valuing the warmth they can provide. That's what great teams -- and good friends -- are all about.

Next time you get hurt by the quills of a porcupine that's close to you, good idea to pause and think of the winter ahead.

Getting away is easy. Surviving alone, tough.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh





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