Finding Your Center

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

There is a powerful principle found in Jim Collins’ intuitive book, Good to Great called “The Hedgehog Concept”. It is based upon Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay that divides the world into hedgehogs and foxes.

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The fox is a cunning creature, able to devise a myriad of complex strategies for sneak attacks upon the hedgehog. Day in and day out, the fox circles around the hedgehog’s den, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Fast, sleek, beautiful, fleet of foot, and crafty–the fox looks like the sure winner.

The hedgehog, on the other hand, is a dowdier creature, looking like a genetic mix-up between a porcupine and a small armadillo. He waddles along, going about his simple day, searching for lunch and taking care of his home.

The fox waits in cunning silence at the juncture in the trail. The hedgehog, minding his own business, wanders right into the path of the fox.

“Aha, I’ve got you now!” thinks the fox. He leaps out, bounding across the ground, lightning fast. The little hedgehog, sensing danger, looks up and thinks, “Here we go again. Will he ever learn?” Rolling up into a perfect little ball, the hedgehog becomes a sphere of sharp spikes, pointing outward in all directions. The fox, bounding toward his prey, sees the hedgehog’s defense and calls off the attack. Retreating back to the forest, the fox begins to calculate a new line of attack. Each day, some version of this battle between the hedgehog and the fox takes place, and despite the greater cunning of the fox, the hedgehog always wins.

From this little parable, Berlin divides people into two basic groups: foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many ends at the same time, viewing the world in all its complexity. They are “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels,” says 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 does not 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 relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance.

Princeton professor Marvin Bressler points out the power of the Hedgehog Concept: “You want to know what separates those who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart? They’re hedgehogs.”

A great question we all should consider is: “Do we have one thing at our core that unifies and guides everything in our lives? Or, are we scattered and diffused with no unifying vision like the fox?

I find that a majority of modern people do not have a spiritual center in their lives and have no idea what they are living for. Consequently, life becomes complex and confusing, with no real sense of meaning.

Stephen Covey, in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that every one of us has a “personal center.” Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom and power.

You can see how easily money can work its way to “the center,” because we easily believe it can purchase security, power and our ultimate well-being. Over time, however, we discover how money fails us.

It should cause us to wonder if there is something out there at the heart of life that enables us to make sense of it all.

Is there an ultimate security, a true foundation we can build our lives upon? Something that we can truly rely on?

God tells us that He should be that personal center. He desires for us to walk with Him through life as our guide, as our source of wisdom and as our ultimate security.

One who undeniably grasped this concept was C.S. Lewis. He firmly believed that until you allow Christ to be your “personal center,” you will never learn who you really are and life will never be truly coherent.

Lewis, in his search for spiritual truth, moved from atheism, to theism and, finally, to the Christian faith. He said that he thought he was finally coming to a place of truth, only to find that the truth itself was a person. Jesus.

In Jesus, C.S. Lewis found the one, single person who could unify and guide his life. In essence, he had found the very center from which all of life flows.


Add grace and understanding to your day with words from Richard E. Simmons III in your inbox. Sign-up for weekly email with the latest blog post, podcast, and quote.

Fill out the form to receive wisdom in your inbox from Richard E. Simmons III.