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."
As lovely as it is, something about it seemed to suggest to me that it might not be "real." First of all, it should come as no surprise that several gems of "Native American" wisdom are floating around the web just because it seems like a cool thing to do. Second of all, I have literally hundreds of papers with Native American stories recorded by ethnographers from the late 1800's early 1900's. These stories are almost always of a style that I, quite frankly, have a hard time understanding and connecting with. The reason for this is that because I am not a part of that culture and have very little connection with that culture. The images and symbols used in the stories are rich with meaning to those who are aware of the symbolic connections, but because I am not, they often mean nothing to me. I still find the stories beautiful, but I am very much aware of missing out on a world of meaning because of how far removed I am.
And so to come across a nice little packaged story that has widely appealed to Western readers immediately threw up some question marks for me.
So I went searching and found this site, which traces the origin of the story back to a book written by an evangelical Christian minister in 1978. I don't understand why the author of the linked article seems to think that the original story has a message of "Black is evil, and white is good!" I fear that whoever wrote it was so angry that an originally Christian parable was passed off as "Native" that they barely read and assumed the worst of the Christian story. Anyway, they definitely had a good reason to be angry so I won't harp on that further. I would have been angry too.
Look, Native or not, the above parable is very poignant and definitely speaks to our human condition. It's simple, but very true and easily grasped, and more of us could stand to be aware of the fact that whichever inner "wolf" we feed is that one that is going to win. I think it's a lovely story to pass around, though unless we are sure that it is actually a real "Cherokee Legend" we should not pass it off as such. The article on the linked sites tackles these issues better than I ever could, so please check it out to learn more.
It's awful to cheapen someone's culture to a point where all it becomes is easily digestible wisdom stories to appeal to the Western reader. Passing this story around makes no attempt to learn what actual Cherokee legends looked like, the lessons they attempted to pass on, and the symbolic meanings of characters, locations, sayings, etc.
I don't mean that nobody can enjoy a Native American story without committing themselves to an authentic quest to learn everything they can about these cultures. I would just like for there to be more awareness that it doesn't help to pass something around just because it's a trendy thing right now to superficially revere Native American culture. Hey, Native American culture appeals to me too, which is why I went looking for a story like this in the first place. It's not bad to be interested in other cultures, and this is why I encourage everyone once again to check out the site which pointed this issue with this particular legend out, as it provides several useful links for you to check out in the "Get the real stories!" section.