There is a story about internal conflict we like to tell about a wise, old Cherokee American Indian. There are many versions of this story and they can vary slightly in details, but the moral of the tale is the same.
A group of Cherokee children gathered around their grandfather. They were filled with excitement and curiosity. That day, there had been quite a tumultuous conflict between two adults and their grandfather was called in to mediate.
The children were eager to hear what he had to say about it. One of the children popped a question to the grandfather that was puzzling him.
“Grandfather, why do people fight?”
“Well” the old man replied “we all have two wolves inside us, you see. They are in our chest and these wolves are constantly fighting each other”.
The eyes of the children had grown big by now.
“In our chests too, grandfather?” asked another child. “And in your chest too?” asked a third one.
He nodded, “Yes, in my chest too. He sure had their attention now. The grandfather continued. “There is a White Wolf and a Black Wolf. The Black Wolf inside us is filled with fear, anger, envy, jealousy, greed, and arrogance. The White Wolf is filled with peace, love, hope, courage, humility, compassion, and faith. They battle constantly”.
Then he stopped. The child that asked the initial question continued. “But grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “That’s simple… it’s the wolf we feed the most.”
When hearing this story, many people realise how often their world and internal conflict is dominated by the Black Wolf. Everyone can resonate with the “feeding” of emotions such as anger, jealousy and fear. These emotions can, at times, have power over us – but let’s face it, it doesn’t feel good when we are in this space, does it?
By giving these emotions – the Black Wolf – our headspace, we are fundamentally feeding them. Admittedly, it can be hard to “snap out of it”. Many of us have a very underdeveloped White Wolf.
For some people, whilst growing up, it was not often fed by parents or those people in positions of authority, such as teachers. Certain organisational cultures can encourage the “Black Wolf”. This can lead our White Wolf to be weak, skinny and small. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to change our focus and attention, moving forward.
What is the moral of this story?
We each have a choice which wolf we want to feed when experiencing internal conflict. We can stop feeding the Black Wolf and start feeding the White Wolf at any given moment.
It’s also worth noting that this is something you need to work at constantly. It’s true that some people find it more difficult than others to choose the White Wolf, but at the end of the day we can all choose to stop feeding the Black Wolf. We can all choose to feed the White Wolf.
It’s that simple. But it ain’t easy!
How can we recognise the Black Wolf?
Black wolf shows up as:
• “I’d better not put my hand up for that promotion as I’m not good enough”
• “I can’t say ‘no’ to things because they will think I’m not coping”
• “I need to do it all.… Other people manage…Why can’t I?”
• “I don’t have anything of value to add here”
• “It’s Monday, why are the weekends so short?”
• “I feel disgusting”
• “Why did I not get more organised?”
• “I can’t do anything right”
How can we recognise the White Wolf?
White Wolf shows up as:
• “I can learn as I go… let’s give it a go”
• “Delegating gives other people the opportunity to grow and learn”
• “It takes a village to raise a child – I am not alone”
• “I add value in my own individual way”
• “It’s Monday – the start of a new week after a great weekend”
• “I’m alive and I’m curious what today will bring”
• “What small goals am I going to focus on today?”
The Black Wolf is primarily self-serving and mainly interested in staying ahead of the other wolves at any cost. She is the ‘survivor’ within us.
The White Wolf, however, is interested in your development and sees herself as a mere vehicle to spread loving kindness. She is led by this cause. It doesn’t feel like a choice or an obligation, she just surrenders to the call of this life force – it just feels natural.
It can be tough to get your inner White Wolf healthy, when your Black Wolf is always eager to steal as much food as possible! But persevere. The day will come when you’ll notice that the White Wolf has become equally strong. That’s when you know you’ve hit the tipping point.
Although that inner battle may still continue, if you consistently do some of the things listed below that feed your White Wolf, she will win more fights and keep getting stronger.
Ways to feed your White Wolf
• Start meditating – do a meditation course, listen to a meditation podcast or get a meditation app.
• Find the biggest White Wolf around you and learn from them.
• Practise re-directing your inner dialogue to positive thoughts – what you ‘fire’ you ‘wire’. The more you think positively the more easy it becomes.
• Read as much as you can about feeding your White Wolf.
• Start winning the battle by making a choice to feed the White Wolf.
• Start practising Mindfulness.
Written by Anna Gibbons, Intepeople Executive Coach