Feeding the Right Wolf

“I'm not a mean person, but I have a capacity for it” —Tina Fey

A Cherokee grandfather tells his grandson about violence and cruelty in the world. He describes it as two wolves fighting inside a person’s heart, one is vengeful and angry, the other is understanding and kind. When the boy asked which wolf will win, the grandfather responded, “the one I choose to feed”.  

Health care providers are at great risk of feed the wrong wolf. Tectonic shifts in health care delivery (like Obamacare), logic-defying metrics, higher volume and acuity, and a chronic disease epidemic in which patients are slowly killing themselves through their own lifestyles while we bear witness helplessly all set the stage for us to not be our best selves. We are all working in a VUCA- Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigious, environment. I hear stories everyday about large and small cruelties in modern practice, which lead to all forms of suffering, and when endured over the long term, chronic illness. Recent indignities include being excluded from important decisions in the workplace, being denied a much-expected promotion, or overhearing toxic gossip about ourselves.       

Working in this difficult environment, people can do things that hurt us and if you are experiencing modern day “slings and arrows”, they need not be corrosive and eat away at you, nor do you need to become the vengeful wolf. How is it possible to feed the right wolf?

It is dependent on our own mental readiness. We can intentionally train ourselves to feed the right wolf when life is unfair or unkind. We are always self-treating any condition with the thoughts we have about it, so why not choose the course of treatment that stems from compassion?  As insults hit, we can avoid sending the angry email, reaching for the thing that is bad for us, or acting out, as these don’t provide relief.  

Interrupt the usual chain of reaction by making a choice—a commitment to let go.  We can summon our own natural warmth at any time to more effectively stand up for ourselves, have the difficult conversation, or make the hard decision. Taking the slightest gesture towards feeding the right wolf—our highest self—can shift any situation.  

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them” —Michael Jordan

Eileen O’Grady, PhD, RN, NP