The story of the two wolves is one I always cherish. It’s a soft and charming philosophy. Also perfect for those seeking some uplifting guidance without being too convoluted or complicated!
To quickly summarise, an old Cherokee explains to his grandson that a fight is happening inside each and every one of us, between two wolves. One represents everything that is good and one represents everything that is evil. His moral reasoning behind this story, is that the wolf who wins – good or evil – is the one you feed. It’s a very short story so I would highly recommend you to take a minute to read the whole passage.
I have shared the story with a few people, strangers and friends alike, as I love it so much. Although the Cherokee never reveals which wolf we should feed, as expected, most people interpret the moral of the story as we should feed our positivity. Effectively, therefore, we should be starving negativity. Philosophy generally points us in a direction of optimism, and those who are, appear to be happier in themselves. On the other hand, especially when it is directed towards us from someone else, negativity tends to lower self esteem and wear us down. Nevertheless, I would like to offer a different interpretation to this story:
When I first read the story, my interpretation matched the one I just described above; it just makes sense. However, certain thoughts have come to my mind since first learning the story, which have always brought me back to the wolves.
It first happened when I was learning about moral dilemmas; classic dilemmas, such as the following:
Your close relative is extremely ill and is in desperate need of medication. Unfortunately, the medication is very expensive and you cannot afford to buy it. You have tried to reason with the doctor, but he cannot simply give you the medicine, as he may lose his job. You know your relative does not have long to live without it.
An opportunity arises for you to steal the medication. Is it morally correct to do so?
Of course, the two immediate outcomes for this dilemma, are that you steal the medicine putting the doctor’s job at risk as well as breaking the law, or alternatively you ignore your ability to save your relatives life. For some, the answer would be obvious as it becomes a question of evaluating two evils.
Without going off on a tangent, I’d just like to highlight the saying ‘the lesser of two evils’. If this is how we define a dilemma, then aren’t we saying this situation has no overwhelming positive outcome?
Relating this to the Cherokee wolves, I think that if it were possible to completely rid ourselves of negativity, we would really be stuck in a dilemma such as the one detailed above, where acts such as stealing or choosing not to prevent someone’s death would singularly be categorised as negative actions.
Although I have never been in a dilemma, that even comes close to the one above, and perhaps even have to question it’s realistic value, it does make me wonder whether negativity is actually an important attribute to own.
Another example (which I won’t go into too much detail about), my friend was once in a small dilemma which involved myself. To keep the story short, she discovered some news that she knew was going to upset me when I found out. Her dilemma was choosing whether to tell me the information in a less abrupt and more gentle fashion at the risk of upsetting me, or letting me find out for myself and possibly end up being embarrassed or feeling even worse! In the end, she told me the news, and did upset me a lot. In the case of the Cherokee wolves, I was feeding my negativity.
However, I was not angry at my friend and was very happy she told me. It prepared me for what I was going to experience and on reflection, it was a contribution to helping me grow. Because I was exposed to the negativity, I could develop my attitude to make it a positive experience. Perhaps too often we look at negativity as a dead end, when really, we can use it as a doorway to grow.
If we don’t like something, we should change it. But if we can’t change it, we can change our attitude.
After thinking about it and considering the above, I feel like the route to inner peace could only be balance between the two wolves. A couple of nights ago, I was introduced to the concept ‘when it comes to light and dark, one can’t exist without the death of the other.’ I’m not someone who would like to choose between night and day! They are equal and natural although they are different. It seems nearly every aspect of the world has a counterpart. I think it would be more appropriate for them to live in harmony than constantly be at war. In the words of Morrissey, if it’s not love then it’s the bomb that will bring us together.
Just one last thought for you to ponder, on feeding your wolves equally: If it is evil to starve the good, can it really be good to starve the evil?