The story of the two wolves is common among Native people. It’s the story in which a grandmother conveys to a group of children that there is a continuous battle going on within each of us—the battle between two wolves. One wolf represents love, compassion, and honesty. The other wolf represents fear, judgment, and dishonesty. Then one of the children asks, “Grandmother, which wolf wins?” To which the grandmother answers, “Which ever one you feed.”

In our modern world there is a great tendency to cast issues, challenges, ideologies, and villains and foes in very black and white terms. A politician is either a good one or a bad one, a teacher is either effective or worthless, a CEO is either visionary or obsolete, the neighbor down the street is either a dysfunctional alcoholic or a kind and generous person. And then there are the political stances we take, the philosophies we hold toward economics and education, the military and health care, and so on.

In the indigenous mindset, we are all perceived to hold the ability to do great good or to bring great harm, and that none of us can be so confident in our intentions as to say that we are wholly good and without fault. Contained within the story of the two wolves is a simple wisdom about our human nature, that the goodness and badness, and the virtue and failings that exist within each one of us can be cultivated and expanded. We can expand our beauty as human beings, and we can also expand our darkness if we so choose.

So it becomes vital for our daily ritual of living, and in our striving for balance and harmony with ourselves, our families, our communities, and with our natural environment, that we remain vigilant as to which wolf we feed.

Vigilance is the kernel of wisdom that flows from the story of the two wolves. If we can be honest with ourselves as to our human frailties and weaknesses, and if we truly want to move ourselves in the direction of doing greater good in the world and bringing our true gifts forward, then we must adopt a practice of vigilance—the vigilance to always be checking our motives and intentions, and to ask ourselves, “What is my intention in this conversation?” “What is my purpose in this project?” What is my greatest aspiration for my career, my business, my work in the world?” … and … “What is it really that drives me?”

When we honestly ask these questions and remain courageous enough to face into the answers, then we will have moved ourselves in the direction of providing more food to the good wolf, and less to the bad wolf, and in so doing, we move ourselves gradually toward a life of greater meaning and purpose.

As a bonus, consider this also … if you have a shred of concern for your intentions and the goodness versus the confusion you bring to the world, then you already have the goodness in you, and the next course is to keep feeding the good wolf so you become more effective at bringing the goodness forward.