There’s a powerful American Indian fable that has never been more relevant: One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”
“The other is good,” he continued. “It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed the most.”
As busy people struggling with life’s challenges, we often think our feelings and internal characteristics are involuntary. Impulses race through our heads and we automatically react, as if our knees were jerking forward from the thump of a doctor’s mallet. But unlike bodily reactions that we can’t control, we have the ability to choose our feelings and responses.
If you don’t focus on breathing, your body breathes for you automatically. Yet only a small bit of concentration allows you to control your own breath. The same holds true for our character attributes. Without focus, your mind will pick the most convenient response, often driven by fear. But a small bit of thoughtfulness allows you to switch from a negative perspective to a much more constructive stance.
Once you realize you’re in control, the next step is to build these character muscles. Like your physical muscles, they become stronger with exercise. The more you display empathy and kindness, the more developed these character attributes become. On the other hand, destructive traits can grow to overtake the positive ones unless you proactively choose to feed the right wolf.
Imagine yourself as an old man or woman, rocking in a chair near the end of your life. As you reflect on the past, will you celebrate the deep reservoir of positive characteristics you built, allowing you to make a meaningful contribution to the world? Or will you look back with regret, bemoaning your squandered opportunity amid your highly developed undesirable attributes?
Make the right choice. Choose the right reactions. Build the right muscles. Feed the right wolf.