I have a long-established interest in Indigenous people and their traditions, in cultures around the world. I’m not sure why; maybe for me such people represent humanity from some of its earliest manifestations, at a time when we were all a lot less “developed,” sophisticated, savvy. That interest is one of the factors which years ago drew me to Winds of Peace, an organization which had identified Indigenous people as one of its priorities. The history and circumstances of the North American Indigenous people, in particular, has resonated with me since I was a young boy. Recently I came across a well-known parable suggested by some to have been handed down through the Cherokee tradition. Whether the attribution is accurate or not, it reads like Native American wisdom and I share it here:
An elder was talking to his grandson and said:
“A fight is going on inside me, I feel like I have two wolves fighting in my heart,” 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, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
“The other is good- he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, companion and faith.”
He told his grandson the same fight is going on inside you and inside every other person too.
The grandson asked: “Grandpa, tell me which of the two wolves will win the fight in your heart?”
The grandfather answered : “The one you feed.”
It’s a nice little morality play, one that almost always gives pause to readers due to its simplicity and the universality of its truth in each of us. We all sense the struggle within ourselves. Right versus wrong, good versus evil. No battles in human existence have been fought longer than this one, and there still seems to be no armistice in sight. It’s the essential work of every soul to take up the conflict. And though we innately recognize which side of the battle lines we should be on, the struggle never seems to become any easier.
I’d be proud to relate some of the outcomes of such confrontations in my own life; you would hear of sacrifice and persistence and honesty that would define me as a selfless steward of the opportunities life has presented. But my embarrassment would more than counterbalance all of that, to tell of the shortcomings and neglect that I have allowed in that same journey. The fight rages within me, and despite what I know to be true, my choices turn out to be a mixture of both sense and nonsense. And maybe it’s not just me.
The unpredictability of our dual selves transcends virtually every demographic and circumstance. We hear of it every day here in the United States, where news media reflects the results of internal battles both won and lost. In the past week alone, we have identified with the major university basketball coach who was fired due to his unconscionable behavior with his players, a man who quickly and resolutely condemned his own actions as being offensive and wrong. As well, we identified with the woman who donated one of her own kidneys to save the life of someone completely unknown to her, simply because she could; we choose to see a glimmer of ourselves in her because her response is so courageous and right.
The wolves inside of us circle each other every day, waiting for the moment to take a leap of domination, influence. When I am tired or worn down or complacent for whatever reason, it is easy to feel the surge of the evil wolf. In such moments my attentions are focused on myself and my own needs. I simply want to feel better. I might use food. Or exercise. Or making an unnecessary purchase. Or trying some other extravagance. And yet, there are the other days, when I feel the good wolf in my self-confidence and the possibilities of my life, and I become obsessed with the need to share, to empower and encourage, to enhance lives. I might use a gift. Or a call. Or simply being present before someone who feels anonymous. My choices are ones that I make each day and that strengthen or diminish the power of the wolves within. They are likely yours, as well.
Recognizing it, I find myself better understanding the actions and the context of the Nicaraguan partners with whom we work. I can better comprehend the indiscriminate felling of trees for firewood and profit. I can understand the choice by some to drink. I see why young children are not in school, and cell phones are owned by even the poorest of peasants, and why parents may use whatever discretionary money they have for a TV satellite dish. Or why visiting North Americans can be received into their communities with such warmth and embrace.
It is overly simple to draw conclusions about the poor and their motivations when one’s good wolf is well-fed and self-satisfied. One of the side-effects of good wolf victories can be a self-righteous indigestion that diminishes our ability to see clearly. It’s only when we recognize the dark-and-light duels of our own lives that we can come to appreciate the internal struggles and actions of others, and thus to know a more complete truth about ourselves….