The Wolf That Grows Is The One We Feed

As the summer draws to a close and our children head back to school, we each prepare for a new season in our lives. More than Jan. 1, this is the start of the new year for so many of us parents, teachers and students. A fresh school year is a blank slate. What will I make of it?

I gave the faculty at Wheeling Country Day School a writing prompt to consider before heading back to class. I posed, “Think of a problem or low point from 2017-2018, what advice would you give yourself now that some time has passed?” I encourage those around me to make mistakes and use them as fodder for learning, so reflecting on hard times should be common practice.

Now it was my turn. What advice would I give myself? At first I thought I would choose a particularly tough situation, but there were too many that flooded my mind. As I watched the montage of the past year play in my memory, there was a common pattern. Perception was different from truth in almost every case. In the worst situations, I could now see with the gift of hindsight that I had exacerbated the problem by my reaction or my worry.

This called to mind a fable about an old Cherokee who 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.”

Like the 45 school years before now, this will not be a perfect year. Who would want it to be, actually? There will be self-pity, guilt, regret and the rest. Choosing joy isn’t always so easy. The trick is to recognize my negative thinking. Acknowledge it. Face it. Ask it, why am I feeding this frenzy? And as I contemplate the answer, turn toward humility, peace and generosity. The rut is deep to focus on the negative thinking. We will have to be mindful to see the patterns that push us toward false perceptions and learn the lessons intended for us by those experiences.

While it is not always easy, being vulnerable, empathetic and compassionate is so much more rewarding. Remember, I work on a campus with more than 180 children. They want nothing more than to share joy with me. They deserve to look into my face and see a smile in my eyes every single time they see me.

I’m sorry if you don’t move through your days with the same cheering section at your disposal as I do. For when I cannot pull myself away from the feeding of the wrong wolf, the children soften my heart and remind me.

For each of us it can be a great year — an imperfectly flawed, amazing school year. I wish you all nothing less than that.

We only need to be mindful of the wolf we feed.

Elizabeth Hofreuter is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She has two daughters, ages 9 and 14.

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