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.”

“The other wolf 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 this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


It was the summer of 1993 and I was in Israel playing Water Polo at the Maccabiah Games. Certain memories stick with me to this day:

  • 40,000+ cheering fans at opening ceremonies
  • Floating in the Dead Sea
  • Having a semi-automatic machine gun unintentionally, but repeatedly bumping into me on a dance floor
  • Masada
  • Visiting Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall

My first visit to Jerusalem held a surprise. We had a day off before the semi finals and our team decided to take the bus tour to Jerusalem. I was ‘tagging along’ rather than being one of the people who chose what we did, so I neglected to read the advertisement for the bus tour. I neglected to notice that the bus first stopped at the Holocaust Museum.

I hopped on the bus, camera packed, ready to visit the sights of this ancient city. Imagine my surprise when the bus pulled into the parking lot of the Museum. “Where are we?”

My happy-go-lucky-tourist-with-camera-in-hand attitude hit a plexiglass wall the moment I walked in the door. There in front of me, on a pedestal, was a plexiglass cube about 40cm³ filled with gold teeth. Early on in the concentration camps these were pulled from the mouths of Jews on their way to the gas chambers, but it was quickly realized that dead Jews don’t scream and so they started pulling these valuable gold teeth out after the Jews had been gassed.

The Hall of Names containing Pages of Testimony commemorating the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Photo credit: David Shankbone

The museum tour was quiet and solemn. Two translated letters, one from a German Commandant and the other from a German Captain,  also stick with me to this day. Forgive my paraphrasing, this was over 15 years ago.

The one from the German Concentration Camp Commandant was sent to another Commandant inviting him to come and see the new gas chambers where they could now, ‘efficiently exterminate 2,000 rather than just 750 Jews at a time.”

Dehumanize the targets.

The one from the Captain was giving advice to other Captains and it said, ‘Be sure that when executing Jews by firing squad to have at least two of your soldiers shooting at each Jew. Although this may seem like a waste of bullets, it removes the guilt that your soldiers feel since they know that even if they did not shoot, that the Jew would still be terminated. The cost of the extra bullet is worth the removal of guilt from your soldiers and the boost in morale.’

Depersonalize the deed.

Both of these perverse letters have had a lasting impression on me because in their own sick way, they make perfect sense. If you are going to be in the business of murder, it makes sense to think of it as extermination, as we do not think twice about exterminating bothersome bugs. If you are going ask soldiers to be obedient and murder for you, it makes sense that you remove guilt from their task.

Rationalize evil.

We do that today, after all we have ‘counter-terrorism’ and we do illegal things in the name of ‘national security’ and our soldiers die in ‘friendly fire’ and of course we don’t support this, rather we ‘support our troops’.

Which wolf are we feeding?

I’ve taught a student of the Bahia faith, whose family had to flea Iran in the middle of the night for fear of being murdered.

I’ve taught a student who hiked for three days in the mountains of Afghanistan with his pregnant mom, younger brother and father, as they fled the new regime. Mom was a teacher in Afghanistan, but when I met her she was washing dishes in a restaurant.

I’ve taught a Serbian who did her Grade 8 public speech on the cruelty of the United Nations. Her Grandfather and best friend were blown up in a crowded shopping mall by a UN plane. Her life was spared because she forgot her purse in the car and went running back to get it.

Who is the enemy?

My life has been very different. As an immigrant to Canada I moved to a mostly Greek neighbourhood and had three close friends that welcomed me into their houses and their lives. I followed these friends to a High School where, for different reasons, they all left by Grade 11, leaving me to fend for myself for Grades 12 and 13, (Ontario had Grade 13 back then).

I left high school with 5 very close friends: A Canadian born of Scottish decent, a German, an African Born Shiite Muslim, a Canadian Sunni Muslim, and a Canadian Jew with East Indian decent. Oh and as for me… my wife describes me as a Chinese Jew from Barbados… (I describe myself as Heinz57 or a mutt).

I wore a kilt in the wedding party for Ross, the Canadian Scott, and I lived with Kassim, the Shiite Muslim, in his house for 5 days leading up to his wedding, living as a surrogate brother and participating in every ceremony.

And as for being a Jew, I think most Jews would say that I am not Jewish. You see, Judiasim is a matriarchal religion and my Grandmother, my Mother’s Mother, is to this day a Catholic. She was happily married, a role model marriage like few I’ve seen, to my Jewish Grandfather until he died.

We can co-exist.

When I read Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat I was drawn to the ideas in his very powerful final chapter where he talks of cultures that are stuck on History rather than Hope. There can never be peace in the Middle East if History trumps Hope. Jerusalem taught me that: As a city with great historical significance to three very different religions, Jerusalem should be a sacred and holy place, not a place of hostility and tension.  But where we have ‘anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego,’ we have evil, and we will never have peace.

We remember.

There are parts of History we should not forget. After all, World War One was the ‘war to end all wars’… And so I am writing this on Remembrance Day for a reason. Whether it be concentration camps and the Holocaust or Hiroshima and Nagasaki or genocide in Russia, Rwanda, or East Timor… or any tragic historical event worth remembering… we choose to remember so that we do not repeat our mistakes. We must want and hope that things can be better. We must see lessons learned, not resentment and mistrust. The past will repeat itself if we do not see ‘joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith’… faith that tomorrow can be better than today.

And the battle continues…

“The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

May you always feed the good wolf.

22 comments on “Two Wolves

  1. Today I’m enjoying a holiday on Veteran’s Day! With time to catch up on my Reader, I was hoping for a post of this type – one that could help me thoughtfully honor and remember our Veterans. You put a lot into this post. I want you to know that I got a lot out of it.

    I have two thoughts, David, that I’d like to share with you. First, you have been blessed to have a diverse heritage and rich experiences that enlighten your thinking. Given similar experiences, all of the world’s young men might enjoy an idealism and perspective that enables them to compare, contrast and evaluate the “wolves” within them – and in the world. In reality, however, most of the world’s citizens are born into ONE culture and the views of the birth-culture are valued and perceived as the views of the “good wolf.” Thus, the root of many conflicts. The wars and atrocities recorded in history are typically fueled by propaganda that feeds the “good wolf.” This is a key reason for supporting a free, uncensored press (and blogs!). There must be a venue for exposing flawed thinking and disguised “bad wolves.”

    My second point is that connected education – a system that enlightens all of the world’s cultures – is essential in fostering a citizenry that can drill beneath propaganda to expose the “good” and the “bad” wolves that reside in each of us – and in all cultures. It is my high hope that the connected schoolhouses of the 21st century will provide such a venue. IMHO, it is collective “problem solving” at the human level – a process of examining the wolves within us – and our cultures – that holds the greatest promise for individual and world peace.

    We honor our Veterans when we work together to birth a more peaceful world – one that consistently feeds the “good wolf” – and is always mindful and vigilant in containing the “bad wolf” that exists in the best of us.

    Thank you for a provocative post. I enjoyed thinking and learning with you today!

  2. Hi Dave,
    Great post! You’ve hit the most important thing we can all do for world peace – teach our children by modelling a different way, by feeding the right wolf…

    The effects of a military culture still lingers in the ways we raise our boys. If you want your young men to go off to war and kill, they can’t be connected to their feelings, they have to be focused on self-preservation.

    What are we still doing to disconnect our boys from their natural empathy and caring?

    How we teach and how we parent is the greatest peace keeping mission we can all participate in!

    Thanks for your thoughtful and caring post!

  3. I greatly appreciate your thought-provoking, profound post that reveals your priorities and your influences. Thank you for being so transparent in sharing events and people in your life that have impacted you and made you the educator you are today.
    I’m also grateful you included the link to a previous post about your grandfather. He does sound like a “Big Giant.” We are losing those “Big Giants” in our lives and their memories and that saddens me. Will our generation, one day, be a “Big Giant” to our grandchildren?

  4. The story of the wolves is powerful because it leads to a choice every individual has the opportunity to make.

    Choose. It is that simple, and that difficult.

    It cannot be something we do as a community – each of us must do it alone, or not.

    In reading the Cherokee’s parable, the decision seems obvious. Why, then, would anyone choose to feed their darker nature?

    Were you to ask someone, who is obviously behaving in a manner that reveals resentment, hate, or any of those characteristics of the mean wolf, why s/he is doing that, you might hear reasons.

    We all have a tape that plays in our head reminding all of us of the reasons we are doing what we do. The contents of that tape was created as a consequence of our personal experiences, our culture, our family and friends, our education and more. It also has a very strong influence: it is the at core of our beliefs.

    When we listen to our tape, it sounds like truth. It gives us comfort that our world-view is correct and that the things we do are reasonable and therefore appropriate.

    Some people learn that it is possible to examine our own tapes and decide if we are going to allow them to guide our behavior. Most people think that is impossible. If someone were to suggest an alternative behavior, they (or we) would say, “I can’t because…” and roll the associated tape. In many cases, they can, but won’t. They have the power of choice but no way to access it.

    I would like to live in a world where everyone was empowered to have the real opportunity of choice.

    David, thanks for raising this today.

  5. Great post David. Thank you for sharing. My hope is that the students we have now will spread the word that we can coexist. A few years back I was lucky enough to teach in a school with students just like the ones you went to school with. One of the most powerful moments was during a discussion about religion. A Muslim girl stated to the room, a mix of Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Islamic students, “This would never happen back home. We are the luckiest group of kids, ever.” Thankfully, they know which wolf to feed.

  6. As Canadians who live in a cosmopolitan environment, we are so fortunate to have our lives enriched by the hundred’s of cultures that surround us. This is not to say that cultural clashes do not exist for it is an easier default to prey on our differences than it is to celebrate and learn from them. It can seem that the good wolf is indeed hungry.

    Your post made me reflect on a question posed by a ten year old student.

    Thank you.

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

    I had not thought of the power of digital storytelling in the way that Beth suggested. Yes, those born into just ONE culture, especially those that may resent how they are treated or how lacking they are compared to the rest of the world, may have different perceptions of what is inherently ‘good’. But… maybe this sharing and learning from each other that we are doing here, right now, is going to help change that.

    I think that with digital connections being made globally, across cultures, there is great potential to share perspectives and to really humanize issues in ways that were never possible before.

    The learning for me did not stop when I hit ‘post’. Thank you all for your contributions to my thinking and learning.

  8. WOW! Thank you for posting this amazing parable. It is one of my favorites.

    I have to say that I have goosebumps still from reading your stories.

    As you know I am another fellow Heinz 57. And because of my father’s heritage and work we were very fortunate to have been involved in parts of various cultures.

    I am very proud of how my Dad fed his good wolf. When my grandmother found out that my mom was going to marry my Dad. She was appalled and said something like. You are not bringing another nigger ino this family are you.(You see my my mom’s sister was the first to marry a Trinidadian).

    How would you react if your mother-in-law would have said that about you?

    My Dad instead of being angry won them over with grace and charm. And because he was a good guy and kept feeding his good wolf. He was able to enlighten my mom’s family about his heritage and background. And maybe there was some wisdom past on. Maybe they grew a lttle with this knowledge. And maybe some of them could feed more of their good wolf.

    I think we are coming to a great age where this will be natural and normal. I believe that people like you Mr. Truss are helping us achieve are goal. Thank you.



  9. Not to lessen my reaction to the rest of your post, but I was hooked from the moment you said you were playing water polo in Isreal in 1993!

    As for the rest, great thoughts as always, Dave.

  10. Thanks for your post.

    I always wonder, when the Remembrance Day assembly comes around, what kids actually get from it. If they get anything from it.

    I was overwhelmed at home on Remembrance Day when I discovered a blog that one of my students posted spontaneously on what Remembrance Day means to her. It was powerful writing, and needs further follow-up in class discussions, but I was so glad I’d started blogging with my students at that moment. If that outlet wasn’t there for her, what would she have done?

    Here’s the beginning of her blog post:

    For most people, Rememberance Day is just another no-school holiday. For some, a day to remember anonomous soldiers. For me, it’s different. My great grandpa died in World War two. He was a general, and one day, Japanese enemies caught him. They tortured him pretty badly, but he wouldn’t tell them any secret information. So, they buried him ALIVE!!! Have you ever experienced slight suffocating? Then, you know how uncomfortable the feeling is. Now, imagine people stuffing YOU in a hole in the dirt, and then closing the hole. That’s just SCARY to think about! Well, that’s what the Japanese did to my great grandpa. Think about it, THOUSANDS of soldiers die in wars! I can’t believe how simply some people take Rememberance Day. Sure, there are plenty of ceremonies, but who really CARES except family and friends of soldiers who died?!

    You can read the rest here:

    Thanks for your post, Dave.

  11. “I think that with digital connections being made globally, across cultures, there is great potential to share perspectives…”

    I come from a ONE culture background (blue-blood I’ve always called it – with much humor intended) and have made it a life-long commitment to appreciate, respect and honour all other cultures.

    I think you are bang on with the digital connections made globally having the potential to share perspectives.

    Thank you for the beautiful post and the faith that we can co-exist in peace.

  12. Wow!
    Thank you Dave for sharing this posting with me. It has come to a very opportune time for me and provided some answers to questions that I had. I also read the negative comment that I refuse to repeat here as it does not deserve any more power. Sometimes, we chose to see, read and hear what we want more than what is there. It was a priviledge working with you this year; As a moslem, immigrant and person of colour it is sometimes challenging to meet someone who really “gets it” and you do. I know you will be awesome at your new job and I cannot wait until you come back and share your experience with us.

    *A note from Dave: For the first time ever, I deleted a blog comment that was not spam. Nafi refers to this comment, as I shared it with many trusted friends. I shared it to consult and ensure that I wasn’t blind to something that could be unintentionally represented the wrong way. The comment interpreted this post as prejudiced and was rather derogatory towards me. In other instances I may have left it on my blog, but this post is about peace, unity and hope, and so it seemed contradictory to distract from these themes. Instead I replied by email to the comment author, whom has not yet responded. If you see something in this post that could be deemed as prejudiced or hurtful in any way please contact me and let me know. Until then I leave this post as-is… hoping others find it to be ‘food for the good wolf’.

  13. Beautiful post David – we have been connected for years but it’s been a while since I commented. I learned a lot about you from that post – all good.
    I love the idea of feeding the good wolf.

    1. Frances,
      Wonderful to hear from you! Yes, we’ve been connected for a very long time! You are one of the first people I started to follow when I started blogging. Thanks for commenting and ‘re-connecting’. ~Dave

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