There is a line from the Greek poet Archilochus which is generally translated as:
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
While foxes might be cunning and able to devise hundreds of strategies for catching unsuspecting hedgehogs off guard and eating them for dinner, the hedgehog has only one defensive strategy - to curl up in a ball, spiky spines exposed, and wait until the fox (or other predator) gives up and goes away.
In his groundbreaking book Good to Great, author and researcher Jim Collins shares the following differences between foxes and hedgehogs as they relate to how people relate to life:
Foxes pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity. They are 'scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,' says [the essayist Isaiah] Berlin, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision. Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world, a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple -- indeed almost simplistic -- hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance...
To be clear, hedgehogs are not stupid. Quite the contrary. They understand that the essence of profound insight is simplicity. What could be more simple than e=mc². What could be simpler than the idea of the unconscious organized into an id, ego, or superego? What could be more elegant than Adam Smith's pin factory and "invisible hand"? No, the hedgehogs aren't simpletons; they have a piercing insight that allows them to see through complexity and discern underlying patterns. Hedgehogs see what is essential, and ignore the rest.
In the transformative conversation, instead of concerning ourselves with the hundreds of different categorizations of challenges people face, we reduce life down to its most fundamental elements - the three principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought.
When it comes to living a wonderful life, it seems to me that we have the same choice - to learn and devise a thousand strategies for happiness and success, or to find one thing that really works and do it a thousand times.
The obvious question is this:
What's the one thing?
After 26 years of coaching individuals and groups from nearly ever walk of life, I can say with confidence that the people who do really well over time are often not the smartest, or most well-read. They can be introvert or extrovert; seemingly self-assured or apparently neurotic and insecure.
What they all have in common is that they have an unusually high degree of trust in their own sense of knowing, and a willingness to follow that sense right up to (and occasionally) over the edge of an apparent cliff if that's what it's guiding them to do. In other words, they have a deep relationship with and abiding faith in the wisdom within.
The fact that so many of us are so out of touch with that inner wisdom is simply a function of a lifetime of "fox training" . We've been innocently taught from the time we were born that the "right" answers to our most important questions are in the world around us, already out there waiting if only we can find them. So we search and we seek, and sure enough, there are thousands of people only too willing to share their best advice on how to find happiness, get everything we want, and outfox the other foxes to make our way in the world.
But meanwhile, the deeper mind - our inner wisdom - is quietly whispering (and occasionally shouting) words of guidance, common sense, and direction in our ear. Sometimes that guidance takes the form of a "no-brainer yes" or a "no-brainer no" that makes decision-making effortless. More often than not, I experience it as a simple feeling of "on track" or "off track" that lets me know when to hold back and when to jump in with both feet, even if what I'm jumping into seems way over my head at the time.
Ironically, the more we think about it the harder it is to hear, which is why most of us intuitively know that when the outcome seems to really matter, it's worthwhile pausing for breath and letting things settle before pulling back or moving forward. But even when we lose our way, wisdom never leaves us. And when we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our relationship with and faith in wisdom is all we need to live a life rich with meaning, purpose, and joy, it gets simpler.
The fox of our cleverness doesn't need to be fed quite so often, and we begin to spend more and more of our time attending to the hedgehog of wisdom. The more we look within, the more we see; the more we see, the easier it is to do. And life gets better, moment by moment and one lovely day at a time.
For more by Michael Neill, click here.