“There are two wolves inside of you: a good wolf and an evil wolf. These wolves fight to control you.”
“Which wolf wins?”
“The wolf you feed.” -Native American Parable
I have spent the last few months processing a breakup with a man I dated for almost a year. As far as breakups of mine go, it has been the worst to date.
At one point during some of our last conversations, he was lecturing me that other people’s actions should not affect my emotions (he was trying to explain that how he treated me shouldn’t upset me). I disagreed, “We are a relational society. It is emotional intelligence 101 that our actions directly impact others’ emotions. If I hit my son, he will be extremely upset and hurt. Our actions affect others’ emotions and to think they don’t is to live apart from society and it seems like shirking our responsibility to treat others well. How we handle our emotions is our own responsibility, yes, but other people can and do impact our emotions positively and negatively.” He proceeded to say that we should be above any negative emotions we have, that they should pass through us and not change us. I responded that I understood and as an example I have been actively trying not to hurt him in retaliation for how horribly he has treated me. I said that I truly don’t want to hurt him, but I have definitely felt anger and sadness and pain that encouraged me to destroy him. “But that isn’t who I want to be. I don’t want to destroy. I want to be above my desire to hurt you.”
His response flipped his personality like a light switch. He screamed at me that I was manipulating him by saying that, that I was threatening him, and that I should never have bad thoughts, that HE never had bad thoughts, and my having bad thoughts was yet another reason he didn’t even want me in his life at all, even as a friend.
I was taken aback. I shouldn’t have bad thoughts? Don’t we all have bad thoughts? We don’t always act on them though…simply having them doesn’t make us bad…right? I had been simply agreeing with him that I had felt those emotions and chose not to act on them.
According to him though, even thinking bad thoughts made me bad and undesirable as a friend.
In the re-telling of that conversation to a friend of mine, I lamented how far I had strayed from the enlightenment path that I aspire to be on. “I am horrible for wanting to destroy someone, even if they destroyed me. I shouldn’t have bad thoughts. How am I supposed to move past having these thoughts? How can he be so enlightened as to never have bad thoughts? What is wrong with me?”
My friend rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, the old ‘the wolf you feed’ bullshit.”
“You know that whole thing about there being two wolves inside of you and the wolf you feed is the wolf that survives.”
That old Native American parable is used to encourage people to only listen to the goodness that exists in their hearts. It teaches that we all have good and bad inside of us, and our morality is dictated by which we pay attention to.
“What’s more dangerous? A well-fed wolf or a wolf that is starving and will do anything to be fed? You can’t sit there and only feed the good wolf; the bad wolf will just get worse and worse and eventually get so desperate that it will destroy if it is not fed. Don’t ignore the bad. It will eventually come out.”
I was so insistent that my ex had to have some sort of answer that I couldn’t see about moving past sadness and anger and hate. He had to be enlightened past a point I could understand.
“Yeah, Savannah, he is emotionally detached.”
To ignore the “bad” wolf that is in inside of each of us is to ignore a significant part of ourselves. There are no bad emotions, only bad actions. Every emotion that is perceived as “bad” (anger, jealousy, destruction, hate, etc) is just a portion of our inner selves that is trying desperately to be heard…that wolf is trying desperately to be fed. If we look at why we feel that “badness”, we can probably find a very terrified inner child who just wants to ease our own pain…and if we ignore that wounded child, that starving wolf, the emotions will manifest as bad reactions or complete detachment. Emotions and actions are relational; suppression of emotions impacts our actions. Ignoring the bad wolf rots us from the inside.
Perhaps the only path to enlightenment is to give both wolves attention, to understand that it is okay to have “bad” thoughts as long as you listen to the real reason your “bad” wolf is trying so desperately to be heard. Perhaps there is more introspection to be had for all of us…unless we want to think emotions are bad and detach in order to never feel them.
As for him screaming at me…maybe he shouldn’t have let my actions affect his emotions.