Habits of Heart #12 is Build Community. Schools are wonderful places to focus on the ‘Communal’ Habits of Heart. Building a community, whether it is a classroom community, a whole school community or local community, requires certain skills and dispositions. It can be linked to ‘character education’ and the traits or virtues that enhance community can be both ‘caught’ and ‘taught’. We so often desire to create a thriving community where students feel connected, but it is not always easy. Helping every student to feel valued and to experience that sense of belonging can be a challenge for teachers. Is it too much to ask for harmony in our schools?

“I appeal to you, brothers and sister, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Corinthians 1:10

I was reminded of the story of the Prickly Porcupine as I was listening to an inspirational podcast by Tara Brach.

This is a great story to use with students who might be struggling with relationships or with a class where conflict is preventing community building.  Perhaps it could be used in Chapel also?

Here is one version by Philip Chircop.

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold. The porcupines, realising the situation, decided to group together to keep warm. This way they covered and protected themselves, but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.

After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen.   So, they had to make a choice: accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.

Wisely, they decided to get back together and work it out.  They learned to live with the little wounds caused by their close relationship in order to stay warm and survive.

This is such a great story to discuss with your students. The original story is based on the work of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

I would ask the students to explain the meaning of this parable. Encourage them to talk about the complexities of relationships – how we can be hurt by others and how to manage our relationships. Arthur Schopenhauer writes that to coexist comfortably requires good manners and politeness and that even when we wish to care for each other, we can be hurt. How can we ‘smooth out’ our relationships and stay warm without hurting others?

The Bible has a lot to say about how we treat each other. Maybe start with John 13:34-35. “A New commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Do you know anyone trying to live with a prickly porcupine?