I’m a porcupine at times. Spiky around the edges, prickly when I feel like my boundaries are tested. Perhaps the cowlicks that my brush could never lasso in when I was growing up is a manifestation of that. Call it hair determinism.
Whenever I was being a stubborn child, mom called me 刺儿球, which literally translates into prickly ball. And I’m not going to lie, I was and am stubborn. I chase dead ends and my own tail and conjure tornadoes to spin simple solutions into complex ones and overthink and —
I’ve only recently begun learning to unwind.
Being a porcupine stems out of a drive to protect yourself. Protect your soft belly with your quills. If people don’t know what what makes your heart glow, what makes you shrink, what makes you tick, how can they ever use that to hurt you or the ones you love? How can you ever be disappointed? How can they break the walls if they can’t even cross the moat?
How can you disappoint people if you don’t let them get close enough to be disappointed?
So, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll close the curtains, shroud myself in a veil. Smoke, mirrors, fog. Lights off.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt safe in this fortress. To be vulnerable is to disclose your secrets, which may come flying back at you like a bitter boomerang. But isn’t operating on this belief so tiring? It’s operating on the assumption that people are always out to get you, that you have to protect yourself all the time.
I used to always think I was an optimist. But in retrospect, I feel like I’ve been cynical, more often than not. I admire people who move through the world with fluidity. Water does not force its container to bend to its shape, but instead is able to move freely within it.
I always struggled with giving advice because I felt like I was willing the other person to accept some truth about the world. Like, this is the harsh reality of the situation, why can’t you toughen up a bit and do something about it? Can’t you see that you’re headed towards a crash-and-burn situation?
And granted, there are times when friends will complain incessantly, and all you can do is listen and let them do the thing, to learn why you warned them. But there are times when being hardlined and stubborn only wears you down in the end. Your truth might not make sense for them anyways, right? I don’t know, maybe they like the fire or something.
So, I’m learning to soften the edges. To detach from dichotomies, and let go of conclusions where it has to be X or Y. To detach from the view that people are selfish, instead believing that yes, there are selfish people out there, but there are more that are kind. To speak my mind more freely, without worrying about my conclusions of what other people’s conclusions are on me. To be ok with not having an opinion on something.
We talk about the gray area, the undefined, like it’s something to avoid. We learn that we ought to have a clear thesis and conclusion in academia, and then try to apply that to living. But outside of generally accepted moral standards, it’s hard to seek definitive truth in life.
Each person will have a different answer to the question: “what does it mean to live a good life?”. Tension arises when we cling on tightly to conclusions like a raft, refusing to embrace the blurriness. It’s okay to smudge the chalk on your blackboard.
So, yes, I am a porcupine at times. Spiky but learning to stick marshmallows on these quills.
(note: i had originally planned to be writing about vulnerability and ended up in the garden of ethics. interesting turn of events!)
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