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Scheme of Things

The Porcupine Dilemma
By Nan S. Russell
Sep 5, 2013 - 3:22:37 PM

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On the flowering grounds of a majestic international hotel, built nearly a century ago on the edge of Lake Louise, high in the Canadian Rockies, my husband and I escaped for a long weekend to celebrate me finishing the manuscript for my next book.

While enjoying an after dinner stroll near the lake's edge, motion near a garden wall caught my husband's eye first. As I turned toward the spot he indicated, I saw a very large porcupine. I also saw a very large group of people speed-walking toward him.

Far from the safety of the forest, the porcupine had positioned himself against an used pavilion, attempting to find shelter where there was none. As the people-herd approached, he lumbered quickly as the expanding iPad and cell photo-capturing throng pursued him, each hoping to document (and post) his or her personal brush with nature.

The frenzied crowd failed to notice the porcupine had no escape route. Collectively, they were trapping, cornering, and stressing him. It wasn't intentional, of course. Yet, from only a viewfinder vantage point, they couldn't see beyond the pictures they were taking, notice the growing crowd, or understand the evolving no-options for the porcupine. Their attention was focused on one thing - their "personal" photo of an amazing creature.

It's easy to chastise excited international tourists seeing an infrequently seen animal for the first time. But, we all do the equivalent at times. We have our porcupine moments - deciding when it's okay to be self versus other-focused, hold a narrow view, or pursue individual desires.

Is it okay to block people in the seats behind us by standing to see the concert performer better? Do we ignore the flight attendants' plea to let those with tight connecting flights exit first, or let that latte we crave between flights take precedent? Do we decide the law doesn't apply to us because we're safe drivers so we go ahead driving and texting?
Certainly no one intended to stress the porcupine, just like no one intends to cause an accident by using their cell phone, or ruin another's concert-going experience. But self-focus blinds us to our pursuits. It took several people persistently calling out to alert the group, verbally nudging them to back off, in order to get people to stop photo-taking and let the porcupine move away.

Luckily there were people who had a bigger perspective and the porcupine did reach the forest, but not without stress. And still some people remained unwilling to give up their hunt for a perfect picture of the animal for the good of the animal.

In the scheme of things, I believe life isn't an individual-all-about-me experience. Our actions ripple. Unless I live on a deserted island, my preferences, desires, and wants need to have boundaries in a shared world. Doesn't life include that bigger sphere of other people and other living things also with desires, interests, and needs?

Every day we choose how we'll response in our own porcupine dilemmas. We can decide to look through our personal self-interest viewfinder or look past it to a bigger picture. I'm certainly glad for the porcupine some people operate with big lenses.

(c) 2013 Nan S. Russell. All Rights Reserved.
Nan S. Russell is the award-winning author of "Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way." Her third book, "The Titleless Leader," was published May 2012. Her new book: Trust, Inc.: How to Create a Business Culture that Will Ignite Passion, Engagement, and Innovation releases Fall 2013. More about Nan and her work can be found at  Sign up to receive Nan's free monthly eColumn at:

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