Principles and Porcupines

The Backdrop

In the past few months I have witnessed some curious, at times altogether amusing, personality switches in some of the people around me. The scene usually plays out a little something like this:

Aforementioned person 1 is talking to me, ever so sweetly and amiably, we’re laughing and joking, butter couldn’t melt in the blazing heat of day…..then, along wanderers person 2. This person proceeds to do something that could perhaps be perceived as mildly annoying (if one is having a very very bad day), but not altogether as pivotal as say the collapse of the Roman Empire……or is it? Because this is what happens….

In the blink of an eye, Mr Hyde (a.k.a Person 1) leaps out and person 2 is subjected to a very curt, very prickly, and just the right side of professional, version of what can more colloquially be described as ‘up yours’.

After the confrontation and both sides have retreated, licking bloody paws of anger and resentment, person 1 turns to me and says ‘Did you see that?  What is the matter with them? How ridiculous…….’ and so on and so forth.

I smile and say nothing. (I highly recommend this course of action as a matter of principle, for all whom like myself through no fault of our own, always seem to be around when these clashes of the Titans go down and so are unavoidably dragged into it via our spectatorship. 100% keeps you out of trouble).

I have to say, at times it has been highly amusing to see these office porcupines raise their spines in a display that rivals their much friendlier and less harmful animal counterparts, peacocks, all in the name of what is essentially, a bit of spilt milk. It really made me reflect on how some people seem to be almost driven by defensiveness, and in these increasingly frequent spats I am witnessing (largely spurred on by the mildest of criticisms, suggestions to do something in another way, or a simple misunderstanding), I also detect more than the average dose of stubbornness all people have.

When these catty fights arise, all of a sudden it’s as if the workplace has metamorphosed into a scene from 28 Days Later and the rule of the day is ‘kill or be killed’, or in more relevant terms but equally as poignantly life and death: ‘I am in the RIGHT, YOU are FUNDAMENTALLY in the WRONG. I will PROVE that. SO HELP ME GOD.’

*Picture professionally dressed members of species human, kneeling on keyboards and hissing and spitting at each other from across the severely flimsy desk partition*

Is it me, or in the workplace do some people seem to take any slight criticism, or what they perceive to be criticism, as if you are attempting to soil their honour and integrity completely and entirely, and they proceed to regress a few decades back to kindergarten children?

Let me justify this.

In the past few months, I have observed increased porcupine activity in the name of office stationary, perceived personal snubs in the not signing of minor documents, said documents being violently torn up by the offended person as the offended person stamped away, multiple wrangles over someone doing something in a way that was not asked and after this is pointed out in a nice and fair manner, instead of that person sucking it up and apologising or accepting it, the person will argue to the death as to why they did it and obviously their way makes most sense. Obviously. In relation to the last point, I’ve seen an argument based on this premise last for 15 minutes straight with no water break, and hardly a break in speech on either side to gasp for more air to fuel the next wave of counter-attack.


As someone who is a spectator and not a partaker, not only has this provided sometimes a much needed humorous interlude to an otherwise dreary day, it also made me think of why I never seem to fall into this trap. I’m not perfect, and there was a time when I probably would have indulged my flesh a little and ranted and raved with the best of them (all in semi-courteous tones and ways that would skilfully avoid any disciplinary action). But those days are well behind me, I hope. Why? Because is there ever really anything to be gained from arguing with a person when you quite clearly have different principles on something and those convictions are immovable? This doesn’t just relate to the workplace, but in all things, love, life, family, faith and etc.

In arguing, all you do is prolong the conclusion that was evident from the beginning – ‘we’ll agree to disagree’. Why not save yourself the possible shame of being verbally outmanoeuvred and humiliated by the other person, or alternatively don’t take pleasure in trying to verbally subdue and humiliate the other person, and choose the mature alternative, to part peacefully with divided opinions (and compromise where necessary). Personal experience has taught me to choose the latter route (got fed up of all the porcupine spines in my back). And yes, some people can mistake that for weakness or that they’ve won the argument (sad, so sad), but what do really I care? To me, peace is more important than someone’s perception of having successfully subdued or changed my mind. Like Solomon wrote, there’s a time for everything; a time to speak, a time not to speak. If the potential dispute has arisen out of something as trivial as ‘where is-my-hole-puncher-that-I-specifically-placed-on-my-desk-with-my-name-tipexed-on-it-so-no-one-would-take-it-away-and-now-it-has-gone, gone?’ My advice? Let it go.

It’s good to have Principles……but don’t let it turn you into a Porcupine.


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