There is an old parable, attributed to the Cherokee Indians of the Two Wolves.
An old Cherokee Chief sit with his grandson and tells him, “A terrible fight is going on inside me.”
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, sorrow, hate, greed, self-pity, lies and ego. As his grandson looks on, the Chief continues. “The other is good,” he says. He is love, compassion, joy, peace, serenity, generosity, truth and faith.”
“That same fight is going on inside you” the Chief said to his grandson. “And it’s going on inside every other person too.”
The young warrior thought in silence for a minute before asking the chief, “which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I like this parable because it seems so perfectly suited for us in law enforcement. It’s a reminder not to become that which we are surrounded with. With our work, it’s easy to feed the evil wolf off the table scraps of our shift. The domestics, the child abuse, and the general stupidity of the human race make the evil wolf salivate for an easy meal. We can’t feed that wolf.
We are, at our core, a good wolf. We come into this job with that heart. You may not be comfortable being all touchy-feelly so I’ll do it for you. Despite any gruff exteriors you may impose, or walls your build, you as a peace officer have immense love in your heart for your fellow human beings – even the stupid ones. With the exception of our military personnel, there is no other calling in which you will be asked to potentially lay down your life in violent defense of complete strangers.
You may not see it, but if that’s not love, compassion, joy, peace, serenity, generosity, truth and faith then I don’t know what is. You are a good wolf.
But that wolf has to eat. Even the best intentions fall apart when the body and mind begin to starve.
So we must feed the good wolf to stave off — and starve off — the evil wolf.
But how do we do that?
We all have different ways of recharging our batteries.
We might seek fellowship or solitude in the outdoors.
We focus our off-duty time on family, kids, and loved ones.
We have hobbies to take us away from the places where the evil wolf might eat.
The poignancy of this parable should be doubly impactful when considered through the lens of our favorite nickname – that of a sheepdog. That lesson by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman needs no retelling but the commonalities and correlates to the One You Feed parable are striking.
Both have a wolf that is good – the sheepdog in the sense of the police. Both have a wolf that is bad.
It’s interesting…and I don’t think there’s a more appropriate commentary on the challenges of police work. It works on many levels.
First, is the most obvious one. We fight the good fight against the bad wolf. But if the parable is correct, we must be fed, satiated through some means. This is obviously a metaphor and not a literal feeding –although my wife will tell you how I quickly become a hangry evil wolf if I skip a meal.
So how do we feed? Accolades, awards, recognition, stats…sure, those things will feed us temporarily.
But what about honor, purpose, service, and strength. Those are far more satiating to the heart of the good wolf.
As noted, the good wolf is full of love, compassion, joy, peace, serenity, generosity, truth and faith. When that wolf is fed with honor, purpose, service and strength, I suspect it is invincible to the deceits of the evil wolf.
The challenge for us all in the current climate is to resolve to continue to feed the good wolf a healthy diet. Much like my old yellow lab, a change in diet is disastrous for both the canine and the lawn. So to, is a change in what we feed our good wolf. If the good wolf is allowed to now subsist on media scrutiny, confrontational cop blockers, political maneuvering and riots with hashtags, then the good wolf is going to starve…and shit all over my lawn in the process. The good wolf needs a good diet.
The second parallel between the Two Wolves Parable and Grossman’s essay is the observation that the sheep remain timid and reluctant to acknowledge and admit the sheepdog. In this sense, I see that the reluctance to support law enforcement in some areas of society is a reluctance to feed the good wolf the healthy diet it needs. Accolades, awards, and recognition are withheld for fear of encouraging the good wolf to be, well – a wolf. The wolf, starved of this positive attention begins to wither away until there’s nothing left to receive from the outside world.
So, I suggest that it is better that we find ways to feed our good wolf from internal sources of strength – from those ideas of honor, purpose, strength and service. That is, after all, where the quality food lies.
Third, if we take idea of the Two Wolves from a struggle inside each individual person and expand that to a struggle inside the entirety of a society, I think we’d see that we are collectively feeding the evil wolf. For reasons far too great to enumerate here, we have been feeding our evil wolf to the point that his belly is engorged, and his mind is full of lethargy of food coma proportions.
Then how do we continue to feed the good wolf in a world that is so intent on stuffing our nemesis? We must find that from each other, from the amazing feats of bravery and the intense acts of selflessness that occur dozens, even hundreds of times a day by ourselves and our partners. We must rally our collective honor, purpose, strength and service in a sort of mental potluck.
So, acknowledge each other and the amazing acts of love that you witness day in and day out from other sheepdogs. If you feed another’s good wolf, your own will be satisfied as well and when the gift is returned in your direction, you will find that you yourself are full.