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The Stirrer's resident psychologist Dr Mike Drayton comes over all metaphorical in his reaction to the latest alleged terrorist plot in Birmingham.

Two hedgehogs were wandering about together in a field on a cold winters day. To protect themselves from the cold, the hedgehogs began to huddle together to get warm; but as they did so they began to prick each other with their quills. This caused them to spring apart and separate. But, then they began to shiver with the cold and so they drifted back together for warmth and comfort; and so the cycle continued, and the struggle continues to find a space that is warm and safe but does not cause pain.

This is of course a metaphor (first coined, I believe, by the philosopher Arthur Schopenauer), to explain the difficulty of human relationships. The dilemma is, if we are too separate from others we feel lonely, excluded and emotionally frozen. If we get too close we feel trapped and vulnerable to being hurt,controlled or rejected. The essential task that faces all of us is to find that optimal distance between ourselves and others where we feel attached and connected, but not intruded upon or engulfed.

I have been thinking about this little fable recently in relation to the current hot topic of multiculturalism and in particular the relationship between the various cultural and faith communities in Birmingham.

Birmingham, like most large cities benefits greatly form the ‘warmth' created by its rich cultural mix.

The things that make Birmingham such a pleasurable city to live in: the food, the football and the music, to name but three, are products of the people from different cultures who live here.

The current alleged “Brum Terror Plot” and the events leading up to it, show how a minority of people who hold extreme beliefs can set the agenda to provide a spark that has the potential to ignite hysterical reaction in the majority of decent people in the wider community.

In this respect, I agree with David Cameron that Islamic extremists are a mirror image of the BNP. One might also speculate about extremist beliefs perhaps held by some members of the security services, who may have ‘leaked' the beheading story to the media.

Rather like the two hedgehogs, Birmingham's communities need to struggle to find that optimal distance that allows us to benefit from each others warmth but also be different and not and not feel controlled or engulfed.

I feel that the over riding emphasis should be on what brings us all together as a community rather than what pulls us apart.

To find out more about Mike's work contact him at

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