The Wolf We Feed

ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: ALLSIDES

Author: Joan Blades

In this Cherokee parable, a grandson approaches his wise elder with an existential dilemma. He describes a fierce battle happening within him, one between two wolves. One wolf embodies anger, envy, regret, and arrogance, while the other represents joy, peace, love, hope, and humility. When the grandson asks which wolf wins the fight, the elder simply replies, “The one you feed.”

Today, we find ourselves in a high-stakes struggle. Polarization is tearing us apart, pushing us towards a precipice where civil war is not an unthinkable consequence. The 2020 U.S. elections witnessed a staggering expenditure of $14.4 billion, a measure of the resources we pour into partisan warfare – akin to feeding the wolf of discord. Add to this the advocacy and even charitable investments in fighting for or against climate, gun laws, health, family and other policies. Fights attract our attention – and our money.

Meanwhile, the wolf of unity and harmony languishes undernourished, exemplified by the underfunded bridge-building efforts striving to strengthen our democracy and foster civil peacemaking. Despite the creation of The New Pluralists, a collective of foundation funders aimed at rallying support for this critical work. One bridging leader envisioned success as $1 billion raised for this work over ten years. In other words, the fight gets massively more resources in a single year than peace building hopes to get in a decade.

In this code-red moment for democracy, we are confronted with a crucial decision: Which wolf will we choose to feed? The wolf of discord that thrives on division and fuels conflict? Or the wolf of harmony that fosters unity, trust, and a stronger democratic fabric?

In short, the critical value of peace building has not been recognized as an essential complementary strategy for achieving our social goals. Haven’t we seen that domination over others tends to be transitory? Yet, we overwhelmingly invest in more conflict rather than peace.

Both conservatives and progressives have a tendency to shy away from supporting organizations that have political diversity in their leadership. There are trust issues. Plus, fights are easy to see and measure. Win or lose, you know the outcome. We win battles and we lose battles, but the war goes on. As political leadership changes, so does support for programs not backed by both sides. I should know; I was a co-founder of MoveOn.org a decade before becoming a co-founder of LivingRoomConversations.org.

Relationships are the ties that bind us, and the foundation on which we build lasting progress. Trust is the adhesive that holds communities together, underpinning cooperation and collaboration. When trust erodes, society fractures, and the fabric of governance tears apart. The ability to address complex challenges like homelessness, climate change, opioid addiction, and gun violence is compromised, while the risk of catastrophic events, including civil wars, increases. The shocking disunity of our response to the global pandemic, largely a byproduct of mistrust, provides a grim testament to the devastating consequences of a trust-deficient society.

And yet, the pursuit of trust and unity is not a call for homogeneity or a naive plea for us all to “just get along.” It isn’t about abandoning core beliefs or principles. Instead, it’s a call for recognition of our shared humanity and mutual respect amidst our differences. Conservatives and progressives may hesitate to support organizations with politically diverse leadership, but the challenge is not about mere tolerance of differing views. It’s about constructively engaging with those views, challenging our biases, expanding our perspectives, and deepening our care for and understanding of one another.

Thousands of leaders nationwide are working tirelessly to build healthy connections in their communities. They see citizens retreating from the public sphere, escalating alienation, and even growing violence. They know this is not what the vast majority of people want. And they have programs to create the kinds of relationships and communities that are more nourishing and healthier. Their efforts are undermined by a severe lack of resources. They have solutions but lack the means to implement them effectively.

Funders’ aversion to risk is yet another barrier. Their preference for “known” pathways starves initiatives dedicated to peace building and strengthening democracy. But in the face of urgent societal threats, conservatism in funding can lead to missed opportunities for impactful change.

Our democracy is on a dangerous downward spiral, and to halt and reverse this trend, we need to direct meaningful resources towards local and national peace building. The parable of the two wolves is a reminder that the forces we nurture will shape our collective destiny. To move towards a more united, understanding, and peaceful society, we must strategically invest our resources and energies in feeding the good wolf.

 

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