There is a Cherokee Legend about Two Wolves.
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?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Old and new ways of thinking, being, and acting
I love this story because it invites the complexity of life in ourselves and our organizations to be named. Individually and organizationally we have a fight going on between our old narratives and a new narrative that is being born. Do we live our lives focusing on self-interest, separation, and self-protection? Or do we see connection, cooperation, and people’s capacity to care about a larger shared purpose?
Do we see our organizations as objects and do we objectify the people in them, or do we see organizations as living systems, and the people in them as evolving and learning in their search to become their best selves?
These are a few of the ways our worldview provides insight on the internal struggles we live with. What do we want to become? What do we want our organizations to become?
What we pay attention to gets stronger
In the legend, the wolf you feed gets stronger. In organizations we can feed our victimization, our apathy, and our boredom. We can feed our cynicism about others and use it as an excuse to not care about the mission or purpose. If we pay attention to the self-interest, we use that lens to see motivations of managers and leaders. We will dismiss what they say because there is always a motivation that serves themselves first over others, including the organization, the customers, employees, and the environment.
But we can also choose to pay attention to other possibilities. That the people we work with are working together for a higher purpose. That they will help each other to become better. That they are motivated by purpose and making the world better. If we use this as a lens, we approach others with a cooperative intention. We see the good in others instead of ego, anger, arrogance, resentment, etc.
We get to choose which wolf to feed.
News vs. experience
I am struck by the growing gap between what I experience in my consulting work and the way our society is portrayed by the news. Our political reporting would suggest that no one works for the country any more, that they are all focused on themselves or their party. The news is feeding this narrative and that action makes the narrative stronger. However, in my day-to-day life, I find people across the political spectrum can and will work together to make their communities stronger and more equitable for all.
I am blessed to work with competent, innovative, and purposeful people all the time. They are gracious, trustworthy, care about people and their communities and “do good” on a regular basis. What we pay attention to helps strengthen this kind of behavior.
The worldview and the “wolf” we feed gets stronger.
Dr. Kathleen E. Allen is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (2019) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. She writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based in lessons from nature and living systems at www.kathleenallen.net