It is not coincidental in the least that my favorite animal is the skunk . While there are many aspects of the personality of the skunk that apply to my own life, from the fact that skunks are high maintenance animals with an insatiable and often dangerous curiosity, nearsighted animals without a good sense of home, today I would like to focus on one aspect of the skunk that has rather powerful relevance to my own life as it stands right now. Although skunks are small animals, and not particularly aggressive, they are animals with a great ability to defend themselves, whether it is in spreading rabies through their sharp teeth, whether it is defending themselves with their sharp claws, or most importantly, whether it is spraying those who frighten the rather timid animal. Even though skunks are not particularly hostile to others, their massive capabilities in self-defense, rather than prompting a healthy respect, tend to cause others to panic in the presence of it, not knowing how to react and not being inclined to seek to understand the nature of what they fear, where they might learn that they have nothing to fear as long as they are kind and affectionate. Why is that so hard?
In truth, if we compare ourselves to animals, and think of ourselves with regard to the spectrum of predator and prey, most of us will fall at some point in the middle. There are some people who are clearly vulnerable and not very capable at defending themselves physically or intellectually, who could be considered to be prey, and there are also people whose strength or resources are so great that they have little reason to be afraid of others (although, truth be told, such people are rare, as even among the highest elites there is a great deal of fear). Most of us, however, are somewhere in the middle, in that we have the strength and resources to defend ourselves in some fashion, but also possessing vulnerability and concerns about being the target of abuse and ridicule and attacks whether from individuals or groups. Tragically, that which we view as necessary for self-defense can often be viewed by others as an aggressive or hostile threat, and their moves in self-defense all too often threaten others. Without honest communication and an understanding of the fears and vulnerabilities of all sides, it is far too easy for self-defense to provoke the other into an escalation of hostilities.
While animals often react on instinct, as human beings we have the opportunity to moderate our responses by use of reason and intellect as well as our capacity for communication. If we fail to use these capabilities, we will be no better than animals, relying on the same sorts of instincts without being able to utilize our greater capacity and our greater resources. All too often, we tend to respond in fear to others, without taking the time to understand if others really desire our harm, or are merely responding to our hostility in kind. Likewise, all too often we fail to understand just the level of threat that our defenses can provide to other people, particularly since we are all generally much better at recognizing our own vulnerabilities  than we are in recognizing the vulnerabilities of others. Sometimes, even recognizing the vulnerabilities of others may not do us any good, as it may provoke them to even greater fear, as if our knowledge of where others are insecure may lead us to target those insecurities for our own selfish and immoral purposes.
In life, sometimes we cannot help but provoke the sensitivities of those around us. It is easy for us to be so consumed about our own problems and difficulties that we forget that everyone has their own struggles, and sees themselves and the world around them differently. Unless we can learn to put ourselves in the place of others, and walk in their shoes, and treat them and their perspective with consideration and respect, our ability to rise above our own fears and past experiences will be very limited. If we want to be in a better world, we will have to build the infrastructure for trust and honesty in our lives, in the knowledge that sometimes the truth will not necessarily be pleasant, but knowing that those who are willing to be open and honest with us are making themselves vulnerable, which ought to make us feel safer in turn. Oh, that it could only be so straightforward for us to live in love and respect, rather than fear.
 Something I have written about before:
 See, for example: