As we enter 2022, I (like many) am thinking of the state our world and committed to continuing to navigate it with some sense of inner calm. I am reminded of The Parable, The Wolves Within also known as The Two Wolves Fable. The parable is a popular legend of unknown origin, sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people. It follows in both its original form and in a secondary and less shared version.
Version one: One day a wise elder sits down with his grandson to teach him about life. “A fight is going on inside of me,” he says to the boy. “It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is full of rage, jealousy, arrogance, greed, sorrow, regret, lies, laziness, and self-pity.”
He continues, “The other is good – he is filled with love, joy, peace, generosity, truth, empathy, courage, humility, and faith. This same fight is going on inside the hearts of everyone, including you.”
The grandson thinks about this for a few minutes, and then asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The wise elder simply replies, “The one you feed.”
Version Two as shared by Dr. Kathleen Allen in her writing The Wolf You Feed Gets Stronger: In essence provides an alternate ending to the fable. In this version the wise elder ends with, “They both win if you feed them right”
“You see, if I starve one wolf, the other will become imbalanced with power. If I choose to feed only the light wolf, for example, the shadow one will become ravenous and resentful. He will hide around every corner and wait for my defenses to lower, then attack. He will be filled with hatred and jealousy and will fight the light wolf endlessly. “
“But if I feed both, in the right way, at the right time, they will live side-by-side in harmony. There will be no more inner battle. Instead, there will be inner peace. And when there’s peace, there is wisdom. The goal of life, my son, is to respect this balance of life, for when you live in balance, you can serve the Great Spirit within. When you put an end to the battle inside, you are free.
In our less than perfect world this parable can take on many meanings. I am struck by the secondary ending which always makes me think of the work of Carl Jung and the concept of the shadow self. Jung, a Swiss Psychologist who is often referred to as the Founder of Analytic Psychology, identified the shadow concept as the darker side of human personality. A component he believed we each possess. A place within that holds the aspects of self we do not want to and most often cannot see. He hypothesized that it is an instinctive part of human nature to tuck these unwanted aspects of self away in our psyches only to be projected onto others as a deficit or moral flaw.
In truth, both what we attend to and what we try to deny become stronger. If we can identify and look at the inherent aspects of self-hidden from view (within our shadow self as Jung suggested) we will have no need to project these unwanted (often experienced as shameful) parts of self (feelings, thoughts, experiences, and resulting beliefs) onto others. Within theory, we can then live in balance and gain what the second version of the parable suggest. We can put an end to the (known or unknown) battle inside and, in many ways, the battle that manifest outside of us when accusations, blame, or condemnation of others occurs.
The concept of both wolves winning if fed right, is appealing and captured in the ideology of honoring one’s shadow self. To truly understand ourselves, accept ourselves, and accept others owning what belongs to us is an important ingredient. This comes through listening and placing value on the others perspective and needs. In theory, this seems not only manageable but honorable. In reality, the lack in acceptance and even tolerance of opposing views continues to cause harm in our world today.
There are many theories as to why we need to hide from ourselves. And there are many as to why projection onto others occurs. When looking through the lenses of human attachment, development, and analytical psychology it is understood as defense and at its core an attempt to survive. The sad irony is, this survival strategy can through time lead to destructive forces and the literal ending of self, other, larger society, and even the democracy we have unwittingly believed is solid.
As noted, in the beginning of this article there are many places this paradoxical parable can take us. And there are many factors as to why the darker sides of human nature unfold into larger issues. The internal self (the human shadow) is only one of these issues, but it appears to be a core issue. Further it could be addressed beginning with our most essential societal elements our children and families. There is much research to support that early learning extends through one’s life, filtering into the lives of others and generations to come.
It is a loving and comforting concept to think of wise elders (in the form of informed parents, grandparents, institutions, and governing bodies) who hold the best interest of a balanced self and society (along with all that this implies) as the most important for long-term sustainability.
While this ideology may sound naïve, or much to simplistic, to some, I encourage further research and resulting thought into the human condition intergenerational transmission of belief and behavior, and its implications for our larger world. Additional writings, from Perspective on Trauma, which provide resources for further exploration, include, Ho’Oponopono: Ancient Wisdom for 2021 (January 2021), The Intergenerational Transmission of Belief and its Role in Systemic Racism (May 2021), Shadows Voice: Red Man, Blue Man (November 2020), and/or Collective Pain and Unrest: A Change is Needed. (May 2020). These and additional resources are added in the following section of this article.
As always, I hope you find something that resonates, and spurs further thought. I send you my deepest care and value your presence here on Perspective on Trauma. May your 2022 be full of health, happiness, good experiences and those you love.
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Web Based Resources:
Allen, Kathleen. (July 2020) The Wolf You Feed Gets Stronger. https://kathleenallen.net/the-wolf-you-feed-gets-stronger-2/
Remy, LaDonna. Perspective on Trauma Blog Articles . Perspective on Trauma – Building Perspective on Trauma, Loss, Attachment, Familial Pain, and Moving Forward.
Ho’Oponopono: Ancient Wisdom for 2021 (January 2021) Ho’ Oponopono, Ancient Wisdom for 2021. – Perspective on Trauma
The Intergenerational Transmission of Belief and its Role in Systemic Racism (May 2021) The Intergenerational Transmission of belief and its role in Systemic Racism. – Perspective on Trauma
Shadows Voice: Red Man, Blue Man (November 2020) Shadow’s Voice: Red Man, Blue Man. – Perspective on Trauma
Collective Pain and Unrest: A Change is Needed. (May 2020) Collective Pain: A Nation in Need of Repair. – Perspective on Trauma
Yeo, Alyssa. (February 2018) The Story of Two Wolves. https://www.urbanbalance.com/the-story-of-two-wolves/
Jung, Carl G. (2017) Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Harper Collins Publisher, New York. (Original Publication 1933)