The weather is cold. A group of hedgehogs crowd together to share each other’s heat, which they need to survive. However, their closeness causes them to bump into each other and they experience pain from each other’s sharp spines. This causes them to separate until the cold causes them to come back together until they bump into each other again. They move from one source of discomfort to another until they find a distance that allows them to survive. But, this distance does not allow them to experience the warmth and benefits of community.
Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, and psychologist, Sigmund Freud, have used this dilemma as a metaphor to describe how individuals relate to each other and to society. Humans need connection with each other, but the nearer people get, their potential for hurt increases. Schopenhauer and Freud observed humans simultaneously crave and reject connection. The Hedgehog’s Dilemma creates cautious behavior and weak relationships. Hedgehog’s Dilemma explains loneliness.
We live in a connected world. Our associations have certainly grown broader. Technology and social media have made that possible. With the click of a button, we can see what Taylor Swift is wearing, what Donald Trump is thinking, or what an old high school classmate is up to. But a real connection is different than an association. Connecting brings people together so that a strong bond can be formed. I’m not convinced we live in a connected world. Like the hedgehogs, we are surrounded and associated with others, but how many of us are experiencing the warmth and benefits of authentic community?
It is not good for the man to be alone. –Genesis 2:18
That you can be lonely in a crowd, maybe especially in a crowd. You can also be lonely with friends and family. To be lonely is to be aware of emptiness that exists in the heart and mind. It is the sense that something is missing—namely loving and being loved by others and loving and being loved by God.
Friends.A friend is a friend for no particular reason. You can’t have more than a few of them. You can disagree and you would be wrong. Friends embrace both the imperfections and the possibilities of each other. They are better together than they could ever become separately. A friend is able to look at the other and say: “I like me best when I am with you.” Jesus talks about friendship: “You are my friend if you do what I command.” (John 15:14) The command, of course, is to love each other as we have been loved by Him. Jesus is saying friendship takes lots of work and makes no implications otherwise, but his message is at once clear and compelling that true friendship is worth all the effort and then some.
God.“Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Zion,” sings the Psalmist (137:1). In the end it is Zion that we’re lonely for. A place in our heart that can only be filled by the love of God.
May your life be filled with the love of others and the love of God.