“If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone ‘out there’ into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others,” writes Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak. What does it mean to confront our inner enemy, knowing we can never truly be rid of those shadows? In the article below, facilitator Rick Bommelje offers an illuminating story about embracing the both/and of our inner worlds.
A powerful old story captures the importance of the messages that we listen to inside of our heads.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.” It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
You might have heard the story ends like this: The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed the most my son.”
In the Cherokee world, however, the story ends this way…
The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:
“You see, if I only choose to feed the good wolf, the bad one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the good wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the good wolf is happy and we all win. For the bad wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, and strong-willed – that I have need of at times and that the good wolf lacks. But the good wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.
“You see, son, the good wolf needs the bad wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.
“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”
~ Cherokee Story
This article was originally posted here at Listening Pays, the blog of Courage & Renewal facilitator Rick Bommelje. Rick is a professor of communications at Rollins College and an Inductee to the Listening Hall of Fame. He facilitates Courage to Lead programs with a focus on listening as a tool for powerful leadership.