Theater of the Mind: Good vs. Evil
Parable (părə-bəl), n. a short tale that illustrates a universal truth
I want to share a parable that has shown up several times in my life recently (first on a podcast and then again in two different books).
Every time I read it or hear it, it’s a beautiful punch to the face. I’ve started sharing this parable with my coaching clients and interweaving into some of my keynote speeches.
There is a great chance you’ve already heard this, but please don’t stop reading. It’s worth revisiting:
An old Native American man is teaching his grandson about life.
He says, “A fight is going on inside of each of us. It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One of the wolves is evil – he is angry, envious, sorrowful, regretful, greedy, arrogant, full of self-pity, guilt and resentment. He is driven by inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.”
The old man continues, “The other wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The young boy is hanging on his grandfather’s every word.
“This fight is going on inside of me; the same fight is going on inside you,” the old man says. “The fight is going on inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then finally spoke. He asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old man simply replied, “The one you feed.”
It’s so effing good!
It’s so good, because it is the absolute truth.
It applies to what we watch … what we read … what we listen to. It also applies to the people we surround ourselves with. But probably the biggest source of “food” for these wolves are our own thoughts and the way we talk to ourselves.
Reminder: I’m in the process of writing my second book – Stop Eating Sh*t Sandwiches. The overall theme of the book challenges people to pay attention to that internal dialogue, because a lot of times that conversation is not very nice.
I wanted to share an excerpt from the preface of Sh*t Sandwiches. Let me tee it up … in the first four paragraphs of the book, I accuse every card-carrying member of the status quo of talking to themselves in a destructive, unkind way. Then I write:
We’re all having these internal conversations, and a lot of times we’re being assholes. We’re mean. We’re malicious and unforgiving.
I do it. You do it. We all do it, because we’re all human beings and we’ve forgotten the importance of self-care and self-love. We’ve stumbled or fallen short and then kept beating ourselves up about it. We’ve suffered loss and refused to find the silver lining. We’ve failed and forgotten that perfection is cliche, boring, and unattainable. We’ve been hurt, and we’ve been spoon-fed the self-defeating lies by the world around us.
So, what do we do? We jump on the negativity bandwagon. We throw gas on that fire with the self-damning conversations spinning around in our heads.
It’s a never-ending spiral of self deprecation.
Real quick … let’s double back and tie in the parable of the two wolves.
Many of us … er … most of us are feeding the wolf that is evil – angry, envious, sorrowful, regretful, greedy, arrogant, full of self-pity, guilt and resentment. This wolf is driven by superiority and ego, and it preys on lies and false pride.
This is a bad wolf and he lurks in the darkness waiting for his next meal, served made-to-order by … US!
I guess the million-dollar question is: How the hell do we stop?
Can we just choose which wolf we feed? Is it that simple?
After a lot of thought … I honestly think it is that simple.
As I was outlining this blog post, I remembered a meme that I saw a few years ago. It captured that simplicity and cut straight to the heart of what we’re talking about.
Choose to love ; ; rather than hate.
Choose to laugh ; ; rather than cry.
Choose to create ; ; rather than destroy.
Choose to persevere ; ; rather than quit.
Choose to praise ; ; rather than gossip.
Choose to heal ; ; rather than wound.
Choose to give ; ; rather than steal.
Choose to act ; ; rather than procrastinate.
Choose to grow ; ; rather than rot.
Choose to pray ; ; rather than curse.
Choose to live ; ; rather than die.
Powerful, right? But not the easiest thing to do. It looks good as you're scrolling through your favorite social media feed, but there is a definite disconnect to the real world. Before we have time to apply these impactful calls to action, we’re distracted by cat videos and the latest dance trend on TikTok.
These choices deserve to be in the spotlight; I’m talking center stage, the microphone hot and the lights bright.
Think of it as a five-word monologue designed to completely shift your mindset.
Here is the Oscar-worthy screenplay:
Int. THEATER STAGE
A lone spotlight is shining on a microphone stand in the middle of the non-descript stage; the hardwood floors are freshly polished.
YOU walk with uncertainty out of the darkness, from stage left; we hear your footsteps on the stage floor before we see you. Once you step into the center of the spotlight, you turn to face the empty theater. You step behind the microphone and clear your throat; after a few seconds, you take a deep breath.
(leaning into the microphone)
I choose to be ____________.
YOU tuck your lips and smirk; that quickly turns into a smile; your shoulders rise and you stand up taller as confidence fills your body.
YOU whimsically turn to your right and walk with intention towards the glow coming from off stage; your footsteps, which seem lighter, can be heard on the hardwood floors as you disappear stage right.
Five words – said out loud: I. Choose. To. Be. ________. (insert your intention – happy, joyful, bold, empathetic, understanding, humble, kind, etc.)
Try it! See what happens!
My optimistic hunch: If you say this out loud, it will be a game-changer.
“I choose to be ____________.”
If you don’t have a specific intention to insert into your bold declaration, use this one: “I choose to be grateful.” There is nothing more bold than that!
I mentioned in a previous blog that I’m reading Jay Shetty’s bestselling book, Think Like a Monk. Towards the end of the book he talks about living with a grateful heart and how that can positively impact our lives.
He wrote: “Gratitude helps us overcome the bitterness and pain that we all carry with us. Try feeling jealous and grateful simultaneously. Hard to imagine, right? When you’re present in gratitude, you can’t be anywhere else.”
Then he referenced a neuroscientist from UCLA who discovered through research that we truly can’t focus on positive and negative feelings at the same time.
Here is the ripple effect and where the negative mindset is flipped upside down. This is where the evil wolf is shackled.
Jay Shetty wrote: “Once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. It’s a virtuous cycle.”
Again, according to Dr. Alex Korb from UCLA, we can’t focus on positive and negative feelings at the same time. You can’t feed both wolves simultaneously.
A grateful heart feeds the good wolf and the battle is temporarily won.
You: “Hold on! What!?!?? You said ‘temporarily. ‘ “
Unfortunately, this is an ongoing battle, because life will cause you to feed the “bad wolf” again. Mark that down as a guarantee.
Maybe you suffer a loss.
Maybe you start to compare yourself to other people.
Maybe someone says something to you that’s unkind or mean.
Maybe your expectations aren’t met.
Maybe you get your feelings hurt.
Maybe you fail.
I’m not saying you have to be a robot and not get upset, but you can’t stay there. Table scraps are okay, but you can’t prepare a seven-course meal for the “bad wolf.”
You have to step back into the spotlight, lean into the microphone and say: “I choose to be ___________.”