Cumberland Academy

Cherokee – stories of the Wolf

The story of the two wolves is commonly shared but it is not the only story of the wolf, the teacher, told by the Tsalagi (Cherokee) elders (adults). Just as the New Testament of the bible is not a complete work of the life of Yeshua (Jesus). It is also possible to misinterpret the simple early childhood teaching and determine that killing the bad wolf is the correct course of action. However, we are simply human and it is not possible to kill the physical senses which feed the bad wolf. We are taught that we have five senses but we have many, many more including but not exclusive to: well-being, balance, intuition, knowing, creative and their opposites dis-ease, imbalance, counter-intuitive, ignorance and doctrinaire.

As the youth of the tribe go through middle childhood they reach a level of maturity where they listen to the next level of the teaching. As with the one room school house of the past the young may hear the story many times before the words become important and they understand the meaning behind each word and begin to apply the teaching to their own lives and choices:

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.

First Lesson: The Fight is Eternal

The first part of the story is telling us that we can never get rid of the first wolf, the first wolf will always be there. The fight between two wolves is eternal.

Both wolves will always be there. This applied to our emotions, behaviors, habits, and every other aspect of our life.

I used to fall into the trap of trying so hard to banish the negative side of myself. To force myself eat 100% healthy all the time, to beat me up for relaxing even for just a minute, and trying to get rid of those negative thoughts in my head.

The truth is that none of us is living in pure bliss. What we can do is to act in spite of those negative feelings or hard times. We can take those fears, those worries, those doubts and move forward anyway. That’s how you feed the second wolf.

  • Feeling unmotivated to workout, workout anyway.
  • Not feeling confidence for your coming sales presentation, do it anyway.
  • Not happy with your spouse, show him/her your love

Imagine if we’re paralyzed by the first wolf, by doing nothing, accomplish nothing, and get no way. We’ll lose the momentum to move forward and indirectly we’re feeding the evil wolf!

Besides, what will you do by telling yourself you haven’t accomplished anything? How will you feel when you get nothing done all the time? You didn’t just stop at where you are, you’re moving backward! And the evil wolf is getting stronger day by day.

Start Feeding The Right Wolf

Now, start telling yourself you’re worthy, start to believe in your ability and act in spite of fears and doubts, in spite of constraints and challenges. One step forward will always be a step forward even it’s tiny.

Instead of doubting yourself and do nothing, you can try to learn new things and expand yourself in a slow pace. Instead of focusing on the fears within, start with ONE thing you should (and could) do right in front of you.

Want to lose 100 pounds and achieve your fitness goals? Start by walking for 15 minutes a day if you haven’t yet. Then start learning squat and maybe push-up with your bodyweight and make slow progress from there. Want to build a community with a huge audience? Focus on delivering quality content, and start building ONE audience at a time. Provide value to ONE person at a time and grow your audience from there.

One truth to remember is that it’s so much easier to feed the first wolf — the first wolf is there to encourage the easier options in life. It’s easier to complain, procrastinate, dismiss, ignore and give up. There is almost no effort required to do those things, and you’re getting the reward with the sensation of relieving and instant gratification without much an action.

The second wolf is very different, it’s picky, it’s harder to feed. It’s challenging, tiring and time-consuming to do things like learning, teaching, inspiring, sharing or simply sticking to a new behavior. These things take so much energy, effort, momentum, and guts. And you don’t usually see immediately result from them.

Which wolf you choose to feed will define who you are, and we all knew we should feed the second wolf — even it’s harder. It’s how we feel the sense of accomplishment and success at the end of the day, by conquering the temptation of the first wolf and opt for a much challenging (but right) option in life.

Feeding Both Wolves
In the Cherokee world, however, there’s another version of the story which is given to the children at the end of middle childhood years and it ends this way

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:

  • You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities — tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking — that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.
  • You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.
  • How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both. [1]
  1. This story was first published on

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