On Feeding the Black Wolf

( "Black Wolf"  | Allauddin Yousafzai)

("Black Wolf" | Allauddin Yousafzai)

"The Black Wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great."

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

We like to think there is a vent for releasing all of our pent-up frustrations, starting again at zero. This is preferable over actuality, that releasing misery tends to feed misery. What are we paying attention to? We feed what we put our energy into, and in putting our energy into suffering, we only remind ourselves of the things we wish to forget.

There is an old Chinese proverb that states:

The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns you more than him.

The proverb summarizes around ten hours of reading I had just done. I wrote and deleted several drafts of this essay, trying to figure out how best to express all the data I had accumulated on good mental health. I was overcomplicating things. Facts and figures are impressive for a day, but fleeting. After a while, no one remembers. Story is built into our DNA. We can recall most fables and parables that we've heard, even if they're from our early youth. History, actual events, they're quickly forgotten. Legends last for thousands of years. Why are religions so powerful? More so than actual history? Because they are based on narrative. I remember very few graphs and factoids from high school, but mythology, I remember. Better than any expository essay I could write is an old Cherokee parable on anger. Like many classical stories, its clarity and timelessness comes from the use of animal symbology. I hope this fable serves you as well as it's served me.

The Legend of the Two Wolves

There once was an old chief. His little grandson often came in the evenings to sit at his knee and ask the many questions that children ask. One day the grandson came to his grandfather with a look of anger on his face. Grandfather said, ‘Come sit, tell me what has happened today.’

The child sat and leaned his chin on his grandfather’s knee. Looking up into the wrinkled, nut brown face and the kind dark eyes, the child’s anger turned to quiet tears.

The boy said, ‘I went to the town today with my father, to trade the furs he has collected over the past several months. I was happy to go because father said that since I had helped him with the trapping, I could get something for me. Something that I wanted. I was so excited to be in the trading post. I have not been there before. I looked at many things and finally found a metal knife! It was small, but good size for me, so father got it for me.’

Here the boy laid his head against his grandfather’s knee and became silent. The grandfather softly placed his hand on the boy’s raven hair and said, ‘And then what happened?’

Without lifting his head, the boy said, ‘I went outside to wait for father, and to admire my new knife in the sunlight. Some town boys came by and saw me, they got all around me and starting saying bad things. They called me dirty and stupid and said that I should not have such a fine knife. The largest of these boys pushed me back, and I fell over one of the other boys. I dropped my knife, and one of them snatched it up, and they all ran away, laughing.’

Here, the boy’s anger returned, ‘I hate them; I hate them all!’

The grandfather, with eyes that had seen too much, lifted his grandson’s face and looked into the boy’s eyes. Grandfather said, ‘Let me tell you a story.

’I, too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me, one is white and one is black. The White Wolf is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so and in the right way. But the Black Wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them seek to dominate my spirit.’

The boy looked intently into his grandfather’s eyes and asked, ‘Which one wins, grandfather?’

The grandfather said, ‘The one I feed.’

(Unknown author, with some light editing by me.)


Though distressing, the Black Wolf is just as vital to our health as the White Wolf. Ignoring the Black Wolf is like ignoring an itch, all our attention will shift to it. And if we scratch the itch intensely, looking for relief, the itch will only grow worse. We can feed it, or we can acknowledge it and move on. They are what make us human, the freedom to choose beyond instinct. And with both halves, like having both eyes, reality becomes clearer — better able to face our obstacles.

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