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  • Writer's pictureProse and Poetry

Broken Humans - Haripriya - Batch of 2019

It’s a cold winters day and a group of porcupines are looking for some warmth. They move together to keep from freezing. When close enough to feel warmth, they prick each other with their quills. They move away to stop the pricking, but the unforgiving cold brings them back together. They struggle to find the perfect balance between the cold and the pricking; to prioritize the warmth over the pain.

Schopenhauer’s porcupine is an analogy to describe the want for intimacy not at the cost of privacy in human relationships. To respect one’s own space yet not feel lonely, to have loved ones around you but to not feel claustrophobic.

We all have different coping mechanisms in play. Some of us might want to talk about our problems. We’d feel a lot lighter if we could share our sorrows with someone else. Some of us might live in denial and indulge in activities to distract oneself from dealing with it at the moment.

The rest of us might want our quiet and peace. We’d rather be left alone than to exchange pleasantries and to keep up a constant degree of politeness that is expected of us in a public setting.

On some days, we might desperately want to be held and heard by someone. Someone who cared for us, someone who could listen to our inner monologue, someone we could reveal our vulnerabilities to without judgement.

On other days we simply don’t have it in us to engage in a conversation. It could seem mind numbing and soul deadening. We wish for us to be left alone. We might snap at someone who loves us. Maybe they bought the wrong brand of ketchup or maybe they didn’t replace the remote batteries.

The truth is we all have our quills. But, when the coldness of the winter is simply too much to handle, we cope. We cope with those quirks and the little annoyances that pricked us earlier.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s washing hands and to appreciate the warmth of fellow broken humans. The thought of being reconnected with loved ones was the glimmer of light at the end of a long, long tunnel.

By no stretch of imagination could we have fathomed the realities of a pandemic for historical events and mass deaths were restricted to history textbooks and not the daily news. I for one couldn’t. The world of stability we once knew ceased to exist. We were more polarized than ever before, acts of violence and a growing sense of doom suffocated the air. Stories of riots and looting of supermarkets was reflective of the state of public apathy. We began losing faith in society’s collective conscience.

We hated the solitude because it wasn’t willed, it was imposed on us. But then we realized something. It was imposed on all of us. We were all scared and confused, we were all knocked off course. We sought comfort in this mutual vulnerability. We let go of ideals of perfection, we learnt to accept and embrace the instability and to laugh at the absurdity of this reality. We gained a sense of community in a weird yet comforting way.

With that said, we’ve also learnt to be comfortable with ourselves. We developed a new sense of purpose, a new model of morality. We almost find solitude strangely alluring and take pride in spending time with ourselves. Maybe, just maybe we stopped deriving self-worth from external validation, we gave our inner critique a break. We could afford the time for self-actualization. We found ourselves, surprisingly, in great company.

Nowhere in the history of humanity has human relationships been absolute. Sometimes we yearn for companionship, other times we’d like to disappear into our own thoughts and interests. There is no black and white. Like the porcupines, we don’t have to decide between pain or warmth. We can choose to find the middle ground, to come together despite the quills, to settle our differences yet respect boundaries.

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