Following my last post on resilience, I was struck by a short story about a discussion between a Cherokee grandfather and grandson.
We will get to that story in a moment.
First, I wanted to ask a question – how often do we experience an inner turmoil about how to be and react in certain situations, conversations or overall in life?
How is it that we can let the negativity, anger, frustration and ego take over and, at times, let those feelings define who we are in the moment…
Looking around the world today, I see more and more of this constant stream of anger, fear and negativity… and it feeds on itself and grows stronger.
I see arguments where each side doesn’t want to listen to the other. All that seems to matter is hearing themselves talk and proving that they are right no matter the cost.
Sure, one of those sides may very well be right, however the way so many people engage these days doesn’t allow real conversation and debate. It just further divides and entrenches each side… and unfortunately makes for eye-catching news headlines, water cooler gossip, or social media discussion threads.
So we collectively continue to fuel that anger, negativity and fear… we continue to feed it.
But to what end?
It is my wish that today’s post, and the powerful story below, help us to all stop and think about the choices we have, the decisions we make, and who we truly want to be.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Which Wolf Will You Feed?
Such a quick and powerful story about the constant battle that we all face inside ourselves…
As you sit and reflect, can you begin to see those wolves battling in your own life?
Which wolf wins when someone cuts you off in traffic, or says something you don’t agree with?
Every time I hear or read this story it hits me hard because I know how tough it is to make sure I am continually feeding the right wolf. It’s a challenge – a battle, and it is one worth fighting as we strive to be our best.
I wanted to share a few of my biggest takeaways and learnings from this story in hopes that they resonate and bring more awareness of the battle that is going on in each and every one of us:
Both wolves are inside all of us
How many of us look out into the world and see good people and bad people? I used to have it in my head that some people are just bad people – angry, jerks, selfish, manipulative, and in some cases just evil – they were just born that way. Right?
After hearing this story, it opened my eyes to the reality that we all have the potential to become those ‘bad’ people too – if we feed those darker tendencies. It may be a slow and incremental process, but if we continue to predominantly feed the evil wolf, one day we will wake up, look in the mirror and be shocked at who is staring back at us…
It is critical that we know who we are and who we want to become, and feed the right wolf to support that personal growth. So the next time someone insults you or cuts you off in traffic, take an extra breathe before you respond or react, and consider what you really want to do next, because…
We choose which wolf we feed
This lesson is still a big challenge for me. I know it’s true… I choose which wolf to feed in the moment… in each and every moment. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier to avoid losing my head in a difficult situation. Sometimes it happens so fast that I question if I even had a choice… well, I do. I own that now.
We all have the choice.
As we go about our day we will be faced with challenges, triggers and stressful situations that will tempt us to feed our evil wolf, which will cause us to show up in ways that may not be true to who we want to be.
Personally, as I’ve started to become more mindful of what is going on between my ears, I can more often notice myself becoming triggered (i.e. setting out a nice 3 course meal for my evil wolf inside). This mindfulness (through meditation, self-reflection and breathing) helps me to stop myself in the thought and think through how I actually want to act or react next.
Does it work every time? NOPE!
And at the same time it does give me a better chance to feed my good wolf – it begins to create a clearer choice.
Each trigger, challenge or stress provides a new opportunity to choose which wolf I want to feed in that moment. Sometimes I fall pray to those negative emotions, but recognizing what is going on inside me in those moments between stimulus and response gives me a better chance to choose wisely.
The evil wolf is easier to feed
If we think long and hard about how easy it is to lose our cool and go off on someone or something, then it should be no surprise that the evil wolf is so much easier to feed.
On one level, it is how our brains have been hardwired for 1000’s of years. We perceive threats which then trigger our fight or flight response. The fear, anger, and anxiety all kick in to fuel the evil wolf.
Internally, you can say we are starting at a disadvantage. And the world around us doesn’t help matters…
Take a look around our environment today and you will see “all you can eat buffets” for our evil wolf in social media, the news, on TV and in the movies. We are constantly being fed negativity, destruction, sadness, death, violence and arguments so often that they become our normal.
If we aren’t paying attention and noticing what is going on around us, then that evil wolf is going to keep snacking throughout our day – every day.
What can we start to do each day to begin tuning out those constant streams of negative garbage?
More importantly, what can we do to stop being passive observers of everything terrible that is going on around us and instead become active participants in making our world a better place?
We need both wolves
I know… this probably sounds counterintuitive.
The reality is that both of these wolves make us human. Their constant battle shapes us into the people we are today, and both sets of emotions and feelings that each embody are necessary to help us cope, exist and thrive in today’s world.
Their battle also helps give meaning to the world around us… in essence, if there was no evil in the world, would there be good?
If one existed without the other, would we know the difference? More importantly, would we appreciate (or be able to appreciate) the difference?
The harsh reality is that we all need the good and the bad inside ourselves and in the world around us in order to see and truly experience the good and become better versions of ourselves in the process.
We need to know what feeding the evil means on the inside and outside to understand the importance of needing to feed the good.
So let’s not forget… the goal is not to stop the battle between the wolves. The goal is to be mindful of what wolf we feed throughout our lives so that we can be in control of shaping the person we are becoming.
Embrace the battle that’s going on inside and be mindful of the wolf that you are feeding – each choice you make as to which wolf you feed will define who you become and life you lead. Choose (and feed) wisely.
Once again, I hope today’s story sticks with you. Take the time today to think about it… where and when does each wolf show up in your life? Which one do you see yourself feeding more, and are those choices giving you the results that you want in your life?
Remember, each wolf can give us strength and help define the best version of who we strive to be. No matter what, the battle between them will continue. Accept it, embrace it, and become your very best in the process.
Discussion Question: What was your biggest takeaway from the story, and what can you do to begin feeding your good wolf more each day?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."