Which wolf are you feeding?
There is an old legend, often attributed to the Cherokee, called “The Two Wolves.” It has taken on many forms over the years, but the story goes something like this:
An old man, Grandfather, is teaching his grandson about life. He tells the boy,
“A battle is waging inside me. It is a terrible battle between two wolves. One wolf is evil: he is sorrow, regret, envy, greed, self-pity, false pride, superiority, arrogance, and ego. The other wolf is good: he is joy, peace, love, kindness, humility, compassion, faith, benevolence, empathy, and hope.”
The boy’s eyes widen, and he waits. Grandfather bends down and looks into the boy’s eyes, to make sure the boy is listening. “The same battle is going on inside you, too,” he says. “Every person faces this battle.”
After a moment of hard thinking, the boy asks, “Which wolf wins?”
The old man replies, “The one you feed.”
No matter how many times I hear this story, it speaks to me. It never becomes trite or over-stated. And in spite of the fact that the wildlife lover in me is bummed that the oft-maligned wolf is once again made to be the mythological bad guy, I let it go. Because the lesson here is too powerful to ignore.
Each day, in some form or fashion, my wolves do battle. My instinct for goodness and hope comes up against my human tendency towards doubt and fear. This can be as simple as watching my seven-year-old daughter walk into her elementary school, like I did this morning. Usually, her father takes her to school in the mornings, but when he’s out of town, it’s my job. She likes to be let off in the carpool line, like a big kid.
This morning, as I watched her walk away from our car, I felt my wolves stir. The bad one, today, was fear. It said, “You can’t keep her safe forever. Terrible things happen.” The good wolf was hope. It said, “Look at that girl you made. Watch how she tosses a smile over her shoulder and calls out, ‘I love you, Mom!’ She’s got this. You’ve got this. You can handle whatever comes.”
At some point each morning, I read the news. Unless we are willfully sleeping through life, it is impossible to deny that we the people are in the midst of great and awful battles. Battles personal, like the ones for our families and livelihoods, our towns and neighbors. Battles broad, yet no less personal, like the ones for the health of our nation’s complicated, incomparable place in the human story: for its blood-filled heart.
The thing is this: I have to begin with myself. I must decide on any given day which wolf to feed. I do this, because the battle begins inside. There are many — so heartbreakingly many — things that are out of our control. Our response to the world depends first on the inner choices we make. Will we toss the scraps of hate, fear, bitterness and ego to the bad wolf, or will we make a meal of forgiveness, hope, and empathy, and lay it before the good wolf like a banquet?
It won’t be easy. We know this. We will at times falter, and we know this, too. But ask any refugee from a war-torn land who finally makes it to freedom whether the battle was worth it.
I promise to try with everything that is in me to feed my good wolf. I want her righteous and mighty, so that she can fight the good fight. There are many battles, both large and small, I need her to win.
As for my country? I hope, pray, entreat and demand that those people with more power than I—my elected officials at every level of government, those people who speak for me and my children—take a good, hard look at the battle waging inside themselves. That they ask themselves which wolf they are feeding.
For there is no doubt: the wolf they feed is the wolf who will win.
Talk to Katherine: Katherine Scott Crawford is a novelist, adjunct college professor, hiker and mom.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.