Feeding the wolves

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

There’s a story floating around the internet that says a lot about who we are as human beings, as citizens and as members of any organization.

A Cherokee elder speaks to his grandson about life.

“A battle rages inside me,” he says. “It is dangerous and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, superiority, and ego. The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and faith. The same fight goes on inside of you and inside of everyone else as well.”

The grandson pondered his words and asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I worked with and among local Native communities for several years.

I was continually struck by how they would capture a complex set of principles in a simple, non-doctrinal story; much like the great teachers of every religious tradition.

This much-repeated story of the two wolves applies to every area and level of life.

From individuals to businesses, to neighborhoods, political parties or even entire nations, we decide, moment by moment, which “wolf” to feed.

You don’t need a highly paid political analyst to come to the conclusion that we seem to be seeing the results of “feeding” the evil wolf.

Talk radio, cable news, and far too many conversations and political campaigns are seething with, if not defined by, “anger, envy, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, superiority, and ego”.

“Food” for such a wolf seems to be everywhere – and virtually every family, business, and political entity seems eager to feed it even more.

Where does one, in our current atmosphere, find refuge from resentment, deception and hostility?

A simple answer is that one doesn’t find it in a “winning is all that matters” atmosphere.

In any given subject area, from politics to business to relationships to daily life, our discussions and choices seem embedded in distrust, suspicion and ulterior motives.

Almost every conversation and website seems to operate under the assumption that we MUST win, and that “those people” threaten and will destroy everything that “we” stand for and love.

The answer, again, on virtually every “opinion” program or blog, is that we must win – and destroy the others.

The reality, as always, is never so simple.

A closer reading might reveal that the question is not “which one will win?” – but, “Which one will flourish?” – or even “which one will feel threatened or neglected?”

Both “wolves” need to, and will, no matter what we do, survive.

We need both political parties, we need old and young, we need male and female, we need buyers and sellers, and to slip into a musical metaphor, we need music and lyrics.

We need the black ink on the pale page.

We need, in short, the positive and negative aspects of ourselves.

We need to acknowledge our personal and national lapses and failures as much as we congratulate ourselves on our accomplishments.

As much as I’d like to dispense with the suspicion, envy, regret, arrogance and deception of the first wolf, and bask in the peace, hope, truth and serenity, I know that, at some level, I need the passion, tenacity and, yes, sometimes righteous rage, to stand up for whatever I believe – no matter the cost.

“Good” and “evil” are many times not so simple. And, in retrospect, may not be as clearly – or permanently – defined as we once thought they were.

The “evil” wolf has qualities that I need and that the “good” wolf lacks: tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strength of will, and resourcefulness – and maybe even a wisdom and compassion that only comes from over-reacting and even, perhaps, regret.

The “good” wolf provides compassion, caring, heart, and the ability to value the needs of others over my own.

Both wolves need each other.

And maybe they will learn from their own mistakes without blaming, demonizing or scape-goating the other one.

Feeding only one and starving (or not recognizing) the other will eventually bring out the worst in each one.

Feed them both and you will quiet their internal struggle for your attention, and, when there is no battle inside, you can then hear the voices of deeper knowledge that will guide you in choosing the right path in every circumstance.

Both forces will surge and flow, will dominate and retreat like every season or tide.

Denial and suppression, in this case, or almost every other situation, will never serve us well.

Self-awareness and self-control, in any circumstance will be our best guide.

I showed my ten year old grandson the basic part of this story of the two wolves.

I then asked him which one he was feeding.

His quick response was, “The one that won’t eat me!”

At first I thought he had missed the point, and was conflating this story with a more familiar story like Little Red Riding Hood or The Three Little Pigs.

But as I think about it, maybe he saw what the story really is about – maybe it’s not so much the story of which “wolf” we feed, but which one, with our assistance, will ultimately feed on us – will consume and to a large degree, define us.

We don’t live in a “dog eat dog”, “eat or be eaten” economy.

Dogs, after all, rarely, if ever, eat other dogs, and a healthy economy or society, or even family is only healthy and productive if every member is respected and allowed to flourish – and everyone is “fed” what they need.

Oddly enough, it is a core principle of economics that competition creates innovation, improved products and better service.

Monopoly, in any context, from the marketplace to the polling place, or a relationship, is never a good sign.

The best song-writing teams, for example, are often those two people who, being very different in temperament or life experience, bring the two “sides” of a song to life.

We, in our differences, are far stronger than we could be on our own.