The following parable is credited to many traditions, I first came across it in the Tsalagi tradition [Cherokee to outsiders.]
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other.
One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery, honesty, service and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred, lies, selfishness and fear.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”
This parable seems to strike a chord in many I discuss it with and has led to more than a few fruitful conversations [face-to-face, forum, messages, email, etc.]
Many are quite pleased with the concept of feeding the Good Wolf and see utilitarian value in realigning in this direction.
Some good folk professed the need to feed the Bad Wolf occasionally to keep primed for potential dangers. I get where they are coming from in spirit but disagree in definition.
I see no value in denigration, negativity, small-mindedness, aggression, etc. to keep the self-protection pump primed, and nor do I think these good folks really think that if they follow through their premises.
A Good Wolf is still a wolf, and wolves can fight, and fend for themselves, and defend the pack if need be. No need to feed a Bad Wolf for “safety” when there is a well-fed pack of Good Wolves at the ready.
But, and we all know this, parables, morals, metaphors no matter how inspirational are ephemeral. We read the words, chew them pleasingly in our minds and then, more often than not, proceed to some tiny scrap feeding of the Bad Wolf. Some petty trivial nothing will capture the Bad Wolf mind and off we go.
But maybe that’s just me.
I like my parables and morals to have meat on the bones and skin in the game so to speak. Meat and sinew to feed whatever lesson I want to fatten within myself. With that in mind I offer the following pragmatic exercise also from the Tsalagi culture to remind us several times a day to feed the wolves of our choosing.
There is a Tsalagi tradition of honoring the wood of the Cedar tree (the Eastern Red Cedar to be specific). It is regarded as talismanic or “good medicine” or an emblem of power. Some have carried shavings from the tree in a medicine bundle worn around the neck.
If we leave the “mystic” nature of the cedar behind there is a concrete use we can make of this totem all the same. [BTW-Your moral mnemonic need not be cedar but whatever moves you. Me? I like the cedar, I dig the history and tradition of it,]
A small plank of cedar would be placed above the entryway in Tsalagi homes. As you exited the home you reached up and touched the cedar, when you returned you did the same.
This touching is not some trivial gesture done for “luck.” As you touch the totem on your exit you are advised to remind yourself “Today I will endeavor to feed the Good Wolf” or words/thoughts to that effect.
Upon your return you are to touch the cedar and ask yourself “Have I fed the right Wolf today? What could I have done to do better? To be better?”
There’s nothing mystical about this practice. It is a concrete physical ritual/exercise that reminds you to place your professed moral outlook where your mouth is. A profession of intention to do Good, to be Good upon stepping into the world at large, followed by an honest self-assessment and recalibration of behavior if need be upon your return.
You’ll find a similar idea expressed by the Greek philosopher Cleobulus who advised “When anyone leaves his house, let him first inquire what he means to do; and on his return let him ask himself what he has effected.”
Beautify expressed, but something in me enjoys the concrete nature of touching the cedar and exhorting myself as I leave “Today I will feed the Good Wolf” and asking myself upon my return “Which Wolf have a I fed? Can I have done better?”
The concrete physicality of the touching and the internal (sometimes vocal) questions remind me to stay on the correct feeding schedule or actually induce a twinge of shame when I realize I may have fed the wrong Wolf even the tiniest of snacks.
So, it’s up to you, up to us, whether we simply “Like” a parable and move on, or take up an ongoing practice that reminds us to be good and hold ourselves accountable for what we say we “Like.”