Lloyd Waters: Which wolf do we choose to feed?

April 01, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

As I read the newspaper and await the next horrific headline which details the sadistic behavior of one human against another human, I pause to study those characteristics of good and evil.

Why are people prone to committing violent and shocking acts against other people?

As I attempt to examine this question, I am reminded of an old Cherokee story that perhaps provides as good an answer as any great book on behavior that tries to do the same.

The story goes something like this:

One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

“The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

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

When you examine the recent incident of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and his slaughter of 17 Afghan men, women and children, you have to stop and ask yourself how could this happen.Was he feeding the Evil wolf?

What contributed to this behavior? Was it his fourth tour of duty in the Mideast? Was it the bullets whizzing by his head? An injury, or seeing the blood of his fellow soldiers? Was it hatred for the enemy; was it alcohol; was it the denial of a promotion; budget woes; an anger problem; being away from his family; or was it an accumulation of things that caused him to “crack” under pressure?

Most people who tend to express shock and horror at these events seldom consider one’s environment and trauma. The foolish ignore these possible causative factors.

These reasons are not offered to excuse the behavior, but to determine the possible causes.

Many professionals will argue that one’s behavior is influenced by his environment. 

Many other factors exist also.

Although this example of killing women and children in an Afghan village seems disturbing, they too soon forget other atrocities.

In November 1969, another incident was reported to the American public about a massacre of men, women, children and elderly in a Vietnam village called My Lai. Between  300 and 500 Vietnamese were killed. Lt. William Calley was the only officer convicted of this massacre and eventually served 3 1/2 years of house arrest.

The violence of this incident sent shockwaves through our country.

Why did this happen?

Studying those factors which cause these events might be helpful in preventing them, but it does not appear the military embraces that concept.

Did those stressors of war contribute to the My Lai incident? Or was a soldier merely feeding the Evil Wolf?

In April 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32  students and wounded 25 more before killing himself in the Virginia Tech Massacre. Cho was diagnosed as suffering from a “severe anxiety disorder” before he made this decision to go on a killing rampage.

What causes a “severe anxiety disorder” and is it possible to treat this problem before it explodes? Might soldiers suffer from a similar diagnosis because of their war experiences?

Some even suggest that violent behavior might be linked to a defective gene, much like those related to diabetes, cancer or heart problems.

It is difficult to predict what person will turn to violence, but I believe we need to study these events and learn from them when we can.

Whatever you choose to believe, the problem is not going away.   

And maybe we just don’t want to know the answers?

But the wisdom of the Cherokee suggests that there is a constant battle raging within each of us between the Good Wolf and the Evil Wolf. “Who wins”? I, too, suspect it’s “the one we feed.”

Lloyd Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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