An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his Grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me… it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
“One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
“This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
This parable was part of the sermon yesterday morning at the National Cathedral, where I started my day. It has resonated with me for the past 24 hours. I think it speaks to many aspects of not only my own life, but also the times in which we live. For much of my work at William Penn House and with The Mosaic Initiative, what I hope we are doing is not just educating people about social justice issues, but feeding the latter wolf in this parable. It is a challenge these days in our media-driven partisan world. Media, almost by definition (at least the 24-hour news networks and many of the Olberman/Maddow/Limbaugh/O’Reilly/Beck/Palin world) succeed by feeding the first wolf in the parable. The “Tea Party” movement is definitely a product of this first wolf. I have a friend on facebook who claims to speak for the “vast middle” of America, and claims to look at things not optimistically, but realistically. What I suspect he doesn’t get is that we are both looking at things realistically – our differences are which wolf is being fed. I don’t know that he is conscious of his own internal mechanisms.
So I carried these thoughts with me through much of the day. I attended a kick-off celebration for an Arts and Cultural networking organization that is primarily a grassroots community group inspired by Kymone Freeman, a man of great passion and fire who clearly has both of these wolves fully energized within him. He sees the great injustices, has experienced them first hand, sees the waste and corruption of bureaucracy, but he pours the energy into the second wolf – dedicating his life to so much of what the second wolf represents. It is a life of service – he truly walks the walk.
As I was walking to the Metro to attend this event, I walked by a car parked on Nebraska Ave. near embassies and churches. On the back of this car were three bumper stickers. Two of the bumper stickers had the “O” symbol from the Obama campaign, but were the “O’s” in “Oshit”, and “Commie”. The third bumper sticker, playing on the campaign slogan “Got Hope”, said “Got Ammo” (calling for the assassination of Obama). Clearly, the owner of this car is feeding the wolf of anger, fear and lies, and wants to feed ours as well.
Herein lies the challenge: how do we respond? For me, I want to stand for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith in the face of these things. But I am also human – I get angry when I see these things. I know that to respond in-kind is not helpful in bringing us together to deal with all the challenges of the world. I also know that if I react angrily, I am feeding the first wolf as well. Perhaps the best I can do is just be aware that both wolves reside within me, and that awareness alone can help me tame one side while feeding the other.