Editor’s note: We renamed the Creative Giant Show to the Productive Flourishing podcast. Same host, same vibe - new name. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’d like to hear more episodes of the Productive Flourishing podcast, you’ll find them in the Show’s archives.
I want to kick this one off with a parable from Native American (Cherokee) tradition.1
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other wolf is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked, ‘Grandpa, which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one that you feed.’
As we go about our lives, we can choose which of the wolves we want to feed. We can choose to feed the wolf of joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, and all those good things in every moment, or we can choose to feed the bad wolves. We have to remember that it’s not often one choice, one feeding of a wolf or the other, that creates what we see inside ourselves and what we see inside the world. It’s a long history of feeding one wolf over the other. It starts every day.
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These wolves live inside us. Though one wolf – say, the good wolf – might at any given point in time be a little bit malnourished, we can always feed it. Though one wolf, the evil wolf, may be a little bit plump because of choices that we’ve made in the past, we can choose today to feed a different wolf.
It often turns out that what we see in the world from other people and from our circumstances is very much correlated with the wolves that we’re feeding inside of us and inside of other people. When we encourage other people, when we feed their good wolves, we see that. We see that in them, and we see that in the people they change, and they tend to want to feed other people’s good wolves. When someone’s bad wolf has been overfed, we tend to see that, and those are the wolves that bite us. Those are the wolves that hurt us, as opposed to those good wolves, which protect us and help us out along the way.
In some ways, it reminds me of a song called “Flame Turns Blue” by David Gray, who is one of my favorite artists.
I had the great blessing of seeing him in concert with Amos Lee a few nights ago here in Portland. The lyric that really catches me is, “I’m in collision with every stone I ever threw…”
I’m in collision with every stone I ever threw or, as we may say in proper English, I’m in collision with every stone I’ve ever thrown. Such a beautiful line. It’s just another way of saying that the energy we put out there in the world, we get back. We throw stones. We get hit by them. We throw out ripples of goodness. Some way or the other, we get hit by those, too.
The funny thing about this is that we don’t always see it come back at the source where we share it. We may smile at somebody today, and tomorrow, when we need somebody to smile at us, they smile. In some traditions, they call it “karma.” We can call it all sorts of things. I think the more that we feed those good wolves in the world, the more they come back to us.
This ties to Aristotle’s point that we become excellent through practice. We’re not born brave, generous, or patient - we become those through practice.
As you’re going about your days, as you’re going about your weeks, I hope that in those moments in which it seems so much easier to feed the bad wolf, you’ll choose instead to choose the one that you want to win, the good wolf.
2023 update: The actual origins of this story are problematic. Billy Graham popularized a version of the story that’s heavily Christianized that he attributed to different Native American tribes for additional moral authority . Yet versions of the story were being told in Cherokee localities before Billy Graham . My best guess is that it’s an appropriated assimilated story - the more heavily the story mentions white wolves and black wolves, the more it’s Christianized since the white/good and black/evil connotations are not Native American conventions.