I discovered something new in a staff meeting a few weeks ago, and that is that you can pet a porcupine without getting hurt. I have never actually pet a porcupine, but I was told it is possible without a follow-up trip the hospital, if you do it correctly.
If you want to pet a porcupine without getting stuck by a bunch of quills you don’t run up and startle it. You don’t quickly scoop it up into your hands and give it a big hug. If you want to pet a porcupine you have to develop trust with it. First, you hold out your hand to see if it wants to come near and sniff you. Only after it sniffs you can you pet it, but you have to do it a certain way starting at the head and petting down. To pet a porcupine any other way could potentially hurt…a lot.
Some people are a lot like porcupines. They have quills, and they will stick you if you handle them the wrong way. You know the kind of people I am talking about, they tend to be a bit grouchy, pessimistic, standoffish and avoid personal contact, have a tendency to complain and point out the bad in a situation, etc… These people tend to be a lot like porcupines. If you run up and startle them you’re going to get hurt. If you try to pressure them into doing something you’re going to get hurt. If you cross their path in a way they don’t like, start looking for the nearest hospital.
To pet one of these porcupines requires developing trust just like a real porcupine. No, holding out your hand to see if they sniff you is probably not the best way to go about it, but spending time getting to know them is. Learning about their perspective, their past, their priorities can give you insight in how best to go about working and getting along with them. Taking the time to building trust with can go a very long way, and save you a lot of pain in the end. Just as I am sure petting a real porcupine is an amazing experience, I know that getting someone who is a bit prickly on your side can be just as fulfilling.
Also, for those who are pastors of churches and have opportunity to work with porcupines, the reality is that they are also sheep in need of a good shepherd. They can’t simply be dismissed. You can’t just steer clear of them like you might a real porcupine in the wild. You have to learn to pet them. You have to learn to lead them. So you might as well do it the right way, and save yourself some pain.