The fight between reason and rage

An old story (attributed to Native American lore) provides some wisdom for our present time.

A wise elderly man is sitting with his grandson at a campfire where he is telling the boy a story that has been told for many generations: “A fight goes on inside all of us; it’s a fight between two wolves. One wolf is angry, envious, greedy, arrogant and only interested in himself. The other wolf is peaceful, loving, hopeful, compassionate and cares for the whole pack”. The boy listens attentively as his grandfather continues, “These two wolves will always be fighting with one another inside of you and everyone else.” The boy thinks for some moments and finally asks, “but grandfather, which wolf wins?” and the wise old man simply replies, “the one you feed”

These days, the battle between these two wolves occurs not only in our minds but outwardly in our society: personal greed fights with a desire to care for all of society while individual rights battles with the needs of the collective.

With modern research, we can connect these different wolf-attitudes to different parts of the brain and different brain chemicals.

A very old part (in an evolutionary sense) of our brain generates emotion; it is focused on self-interest and individual survival. It acts quickly and has a tendency towards anger and revenge. This emotional brain, using different neurochemicals also has the capacity for love, kindness and care.

A different, more evolved part of the brain can choose between the drive for self-interest and the compassionate side that cares for others; in other words, it decides which of those emotional wolves to feed. It also provides us with discipline, the ability to reason and it calms us down; it can see the bigger picture and it helps us to solve issues on a larger scale. But these functions are slower and feel less exciting than emotions that react so quickly and strongly. In fact, anger and revenge feel powerful and can be quite intoxicating.

Today, humanity seems to be having a fight between using more evolved part of our brain which provides perspective, sense and reason and the older more emotional brain which loves to fight. We have to ask, which one of these will win?  Which part will we feed?