Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide
On this day that celebrates love in all its forms (or at least that’s how I think of it), I’m reminded by psychologist Rick Hanson’s latest newsletter of a popular legend of unknown origin, sometimes attributed to the Cherokee or Lenape people. There are many variations but the one I know goes something like this: a grandfather tells his grandson that we each have two wolves battling inside of us. “One is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, lies, superiority and ego. The other is joy, peace, love, hope, kindness, forgiveness, empathy, generosity and compassion.”
“Which wolf wins?” asks the young boy.
“The one you feed,” the grandfather replies.
This teaching tale inspires me every time I read it because it’s so profoundly true. I feel the battle inside myself every day. Today, however, with Hanson’s help, I’d like to share what he says about why these wolves battle and how to feed the wolf of love. “We’ve got these two wolves,” he writes, “because we evolved them because both wolves were needed to keep our ancestors alive.
“Until just 10,000 years ago, for millions of years….genes got passed on that promoted better cooperation inside a band and better aggression between bands. The wolf of love and the wolf of hate are stitched into human DNA….
“Today, you can observe the wolf of hate all around us, in acts of thought, word, and deed. For example, as soon as we see others as `not my tribe,’ whether it’s at home or work or on the evening news, the wolf of hate lifts its head and looks around for danger. And then if we feel at all threatened or mistreated or desperate, the wolf of hate jumps up and looks for someone to howl at or bite.”
This othering tendency may have protected us in the past. In a crowded, highly interconnected world, the wolf of hate is very dangerous, says Hanson because “when we fear or dehumanize or attack `them,’ it usually comes back to harm `us.’
So what are we to do? “We can’t kill the wolf of hate, he reminds us, “because hating the wolf of hate just feeds it. Instead, we need to …channel its fire into healthy forms of protection and assertiveness. And we need to stop feeding it with fear and anger.
“Meanwhile, we need to feed the wolf of love. This will make us stronger inside, more patient, and less resentful, annoyed, or aggressive. We’ll stay out of needless conflicts, treat people better, and be less of a threat to others. Then we’ll also be in a stronger position to get treated better by them.”
Feeding the wolf of love takes effort because we must counteract “the brain’s tendency to focus on threats and losses,” explains Hanson, “and [do it] in spite of the age-old manipulations of various groups that play on fear and anger – that feed the wolf of hate – to gain or hold onto wealth and power.”
On this day of love, we can dedicate ourselves to feeding the wolf of love. Here are his suggestions of how:
- Taking in the good of everyday experiences of feeling seen, appreciated, cared about, even cherished and loved.
- Practicing compassion for ourselves and others, and by letting these experiences of compassion sink into our hearts.
- Recognizing the good in other people – and then by taking in the experience of the goodness in others.
- Sensing the goodness inside our own hearts, and …letting that sense of truly being a good person – not a perfect person, but a good person – also sink in.
- Seeing the good in the world, and the good in the future that we can make together – in the face of so many messages these days that are dark and despairing.
“We feed the wolf of love, in other words, with heart, and with hope.”