This story was recently passed on to me.
An old Cherokee told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
Regardless of whether this is really an old Cherokee folk story (I do have my doubts that a long-ago Cherokee elder would use the word “ego”), it does not detract from the lesson.
The wolf within that we feed is the one that grows. Those who manipulate others through fear and terrorize others with their anger can attain a fair amount of power and control, it’s true. Ultimately, though, it is the wolf who is really in control. Those who are most ferocious in their desire to be on top are usually plagued by feelings of inferiority and paranoia that they are going to lose stature and the freedom to do as they want. The Evil Wolf’s appetite is never satisfied. In order to feel equal in the world, his feelings of inadequacy and resentment demand that others be increasingly subjugated. It’s not pretty.
Strangely, the Good Wolf is never so hungry. Those who love openly and generously, who treat others with kindness, and who live by clear and steadfast principles don’t need to feel better than others to feel equal. Their sense of well-being and positive self-esteem comes from being true to themselves, not from feeling superior. Their joy in life is untainted by jealousy and resentment.
Helping Your Children Find Their Way
Clearly we want our children to find and feed the good wolf within. But how do we put that ideal into practice, especially when the evil one is so hungry? Children do learn what they live, so it falls on parents and other adults in their lives to show them how to make the right choices.
The evil wolf brings all sorts of bad behaviors. Here are some of them, with ideas for starving him:
- Anger. Being angry is never an excuse for poor behavior. Yelling, screaming, name-calling and swearing fatten that wolf up fast. Yes, we need to express our anger to be healthy. But expression of frustration doesn’t require hurting others. Our children need to be taught how to both acknowledge their feelings and to solve problems constructively.
- Jealousy undermines relationships. Be glad for what others have and achieve. Encourage sportsmanship.
- Greed. Curb the very human desire to have the most toys. Show kids how to share generously and how to be truly glad for others when they acquire something we wish we had.
- Resentment. Holding a grudge for a real or imagined slight or wanting to get even with someone keeps us engaged in negativity. This can lead us into depression within ourselves and hatred for others. The secret to lasting relationships is the willingness to forgive others and let things go. Model the importance of making and accepting apologies.
- Inferiority. Feelings of inferiority can fester and become the basis for resentment. Those same feelings can be used as motivation to improve. Find personal strengths and talents and build on them. Study. Practice. Work hard. Emphasize progress toward personal goals rather than how we measure up, or don’t, with others.
- Lies. There’s no “undo” button for lies. Once a person has been caught in a lie, especially when caught in a self-serving lie, it’s hard for others to trust again. We parents need to be scrupulously honest if we expect the same of children.
- Ego. Conceit and self-importance often are used as an antidote for feelings of inferiority. Egotistical behaviors are intended to demonstrate superiority. Having a balanced and appreciative sense of what we can and can’t do is healthier for us and for our kids.
The good wolf deserves the best of life’s banquet. Here are ideas for feeding him tasty treats.
- Joy. Count your blessings every morning and every evening. Tell the kids about it. Ask them to name theirs.
- Peace. Make room in every day for some quiet. Turn off the TVs and computers. Help children learn the value of quiet reflection.
- Love. Show it. Make loving physical contact with family members often. Write love notes. Say the words “I love you” out loud.
- Hope. Model optimism. Find the silver linings in the dark clouds of life. Yes, be realistic. But also be realistically hopeful.
- Humility. By all means celebrate achievements and successes. But there’s no need to do it at the expense of others.
- Kindness. Practice those random acts of kindness. Encourage the kids to do the same. Buy a coffee for the person next in line. Pick up, without comment, the litter someone else has dropped. Send cards for all occasions. Call your friends often.
- Empathy. Teach your children how to walk in others’ shoes. By thinking about how others feel, they can make kinder, healthier relationships.
- Truth. Make honesty a core family value.
Parenting well requires being mindful of the good and bad wolves circling within us and the choices we make about which we feed. Human beings being as they are – human – are vulnerable to the evil wolf’s wiles. Because we’re not perfect, we’ll slip him a tidbit under the table every now and then. But we can make every effort to feed the good wolf as much and as often as we can. When we do, our families and our children become more psychologically healthy and happy.