White Wolf Black Wolf, A Cherokee Folktale

 

Here’s a folktale that had a lasting and profound influence on a close friend. It’s also one I shared with my children.

A group of Cherokee children gathered around their grandfather, filled with excitement and curiosity. That day there had been a tumultuous conflict between two adults and their grandfather was called upon to mediate. The children were eager to hear what their grandfather had to say about it.

 One of the children asked a question that puzzled him, “Grandfather, why do people fight?”

 “Well,” the old man replied, “we all have two wolves inside us, you see. They live in our chest. These two wolves are constantly fighting each other.” By this time, the children’s eyes had grown as big and bright as the moon.

“In our chests too, grandfather?” asked a second child.

“And in your chest too?” asked a third.

Grandfather nodded, “Yes, in my chest too.” He continued, “There is a white wolf and a black wolf. The black wolf is filled with fear, anger, envy, jealousy, greed, and arrogance. The white wolf is filled with peace, love, hope, courage, humility, compassion, and faith. They battle constantly.”

Then he stopped.

The child who asked the initial question couldn’t handle the tension any longer. “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee replied, “The one that we feed.”

 

This folk tale reveals a truth about society today.

Consider the popular shows:  Breaking Bad, Dexter, Sopranos, Arrested Development, Housewives, Mad Men, the Kardashians, Dance Moms, and Cathouse.  We enjoy a steady diet of serial killing, drug deals, organized crime, prostitution and the most sordid, lewd conduct in “reality TV” and then wonder why the prisons are full.  Oh, but there’s a show for that too, Orange is the New Black, Stepford girl does time and tells all.

There’s nothing new with fascination over the lewd and the lascivious.   Aristotle defined tragedy and its appeal, ultimately its cathartic result, the arousing and purging of emotions through dramatic effect; so when the audience left the theater they would feel cleansed and pure.  And perhaps there’s a happiness derived from another’s misfortune, that our life by comparison is better.  The Germans call this Schadenfreude.  But the steady digestion of such depravity has more effects than the purging of emotions.

There are limitless choices for content and programming today, from traditional print media and books to  cable, Hulu, Netflix, and all manner of social media.  My teen’s school library consists of an expansive carpeted area with group seating and a smattering of books along the walls.   It’s a media center.  Content hits us all day, every day, almost everywhere.  We have some control over this diet but not always.

I stopped by to pick up a food order with my children last year and we had to wait at the tables.  The television was on and I didn’t give it much thought until the children asked what the actors were doing.  I watched it closely then told the kids it was silliness and moved to the waiting area.  A man was involved with a raccoon in an act of sodomy.  The show was 1000 Ways to Die and I checked to confirm the episode.  You may pick your programming but there’s no avoiding it; popular culture feeds the black wolf.

My youngest child read the Little House books and was surprised to learn a whole series of TV shows existed.  So we borrowed a season from the public library and the librarian had to go into the basement archives.  Michael Landon, a heart throb at the time, stars as Pa Ingalls and we watched a few shows together.  They were entertaining, presenting real life problems from the bully at the schoolhouse to issues with frail and aging grandparents.  I remembered them from my childhood, along with shows like Gilligan’s Island, the Brady Bunch, and Star Trek.

How far we’ve come.

I’m not sure what the solution is, if there is one.  The Cherokee folk tale reminds me of the adage, “You are what you eat.”

I love candy, dessert, and occasional BBC binging, but I’m going to the library to get the next season of Little House.   Then again, I can probably find it on Netflix.

Published April 3, 2014

Apr 3, 2014

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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