Attitude Adjustment #1: Feed the Courage, Starve the Fear

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle. He said “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ that live inside us all. One is evil– he is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride & ego. The other wolf is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion & faith.”
The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather: 

“Which wolf wins?”

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


Just as the two wolves battle within the Cherokee in this fable, competing voices in each of us urge very different responses to climate change. 

On one side is the voice of fear.  It is dark and dominated by lies, greed, resentment, self-pity, suspicion and the fear of change.  Listening to this dark voice, we mistake disinformation and lies for truth and become snared in a positive feedback loop of ever-increasing fear and resistance to change.

The dark voice urges us to do everything we can to keep things as they are, saying “This isn’t your fault, why should you fix it?” and “If someone tries to fix this, you will lose out.” This seductively dark voice says we can keep our present way of life if we just fight the spread of clean energy and keep relying on fossil fuels.

The voice of fear also blocks action in a more sinister way–by painting a frightening picture of an apocalyptic future that nobody can bear to think about. It goes on and on about how the future world will be little more than a bleak landscape that can no longer support life as we know it (let alone knew it). The voice of fear deflates thoughts of action by crooning, “It’s too late to do anything anyway, and do you really think your crummy and insignificant personal actions could make a difference? Why even try?

Is it any surprise that this dark and deceptive voice produces debilitating ecoanxiety, abject fear of the future and paralyzing grief for what has been lost?  All too often, people get stuck in this grief before they can discover the healing power of action.

Now consider that other voice, the voice of courage and hope. Over the din of disinformation from the dark voice, this bright voice speaks of joy in rebuilding the natural world, of a vision for a cleaner, healthier and more equitable future and of the need to embrace cooperation instead of competition. 

Most of all, the voice of hope and courage speaks of the need for action and how we can each make a difference if we just show up.  It counsels us to do not just what we feel we can, but what is necessary to solve the climate problem. This is the voice of action and “stubborn optimism”, a state of mind that celebrates the persistence and courage we need to relentlessly work toward a better future*. 

The voice of hope and stubborn optimism acknowledges that changing the world is hard work, but it also sings of the depths of courage in the human spirit and the many times people have risen to tough challenges before.  The hope this voice embodies is not some vacant wish that everything will somehow be OK. This is hope with teeth, a wellspring of courage and an endless source of energy for the work ahead.

Just as the Cherokee boy had to choose which wolf to feed, each of us must choose which voice to reward with our attention.

Let’s choose to turn a deaf ear to the voice of disinformation, fear and greed and give all our attention to the inner voice of courage, hope, stubborn optimism and action. This courageous voice will help us visualize a path toward a truly bright future world and its messages of persistence, empathy and equality will give us the strength we need to stay the course. 

When we choose the voice of courage and hope, we deny fear its power to paralyze us.  Without our attention, the fearful voice will simply wither away.

I hope you’ll join me in this choice.

Feed the courage, starve the fear!

*Ideas in this paragraph from Figueres & Rivett-Carnac, The Future We Choose. Used with gratitude.

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