Deciding on which wolf to feed

Living and Growing

Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Dr. Wayne Dyer tells a story about a grandfather talking to his grandson about the attacks of September 11. The grandfather says, "I feel like I have two wolves fighting inside me. The first wolf is filled with anger and hatred and bitterness and mostly revenge. The second wolf is filled with love and kindness and happiness and mostly forgiveness." The boy asks his grandfather which wolf he thinks will win. The grandfather replies, "Whichever one I feed."

This story came to mind the other night when I was watching television. I thought about how we are being overwhelmed, even bombarded, by negative advertising from all sides during this campaign season. It feels especially hard during what seems like an emotionally heightened time, with the continuing loss of life in Iraq on all sides, terrorism in Russia, unrelenting storms in the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, and general uncertainty about what the future holds.

I think we all have those same two wolves inside us, and when we are uncertain and afraid the wolf of fear and anger is much more likely to hold sway. When our emotions are out of control, it is much more likely to be on the negative side. It's not that anger itself is bad - anger is a sign that something is wrong. It's what we do with our anger that matters. Unchecked, it can be dangerous and destructive. Unchecked, it feeds the wolf of bitterness and revenge.

That, of course, is the easy way out. It requires much less effort on our part to feed that wolf. A bite here, a few crumbs there - it is so easy to hang onto our feelings of hurt and entitlement, our desire for revenge and having our own way. And so we fuel the flames of hatred that will ultimately consume us.

Choosing something else, choosing to feed the wolf of love and forgiveness, requires much more: It requires that we be conscious and present and aware. It doesn't mean that we don't feel these other feelings of anger and fear and revenge. It means that we consciously choose not to let them control us, that we consciously choose a different response - that we choose to feed the other wolf.

This is the response of faith. It is not easy. As a matter of fact, it may be one of the most difficult things we do, and it is profoundly counter-cultural. The culture, in all its guises, uses fear to control us. By choosing to act out of love and compassion rather than fear, we break the control the culture has over us. We break the bonds of fear. We become free, which can be a pretty terrifying thing in itself. No wonder it is easier to feed the other wolf!

But ultimately freedom and love are what we are called to as Christians - a calling shared with other faith traditions. Speaking through the prophet Hosea thousands of years ago, God told the people of ancient Israel, "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

The challenge for us is not when we feel loving and kind and compassionate. The challenge for us is to find "the narrow gate," and to choose to act in love and compassion even when we don't feel like it - not because it is easy, but because it is right. Fear and hatred will destroy us. Only by struggling through to the other side, by struggling through to love and forgiveness, can we have any hope of survival.

The gospels tell us that, at the end, Jesus asked God to forgive those who killed him. Jesus chose, as his last act, not to feed the wolf of hatred. Jesus chose to feed the wolf of love.

The world cries out, as it always has, for us to make the same choice.

• The Rev. Kathleen Wakefield is interim rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

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