Dealing with Conflict: A Tale of Monsters and 2 Wolves

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster himself.”—Nietzsche

While watching the news the other day, a thought popped into my head. You know, it’s funny how sometimes, when we feel as if we’ve been wronged in some way, in our response in an attempt to “right” that wrong, we can sometimes find ourselves doing the exact wrong thing that was done to us to someone else.

Need a quick example?

For instance, I was on the freeway the other day preparing to switch lanes. As I began to make my way over to the right lane, I was cut off by another car and narrowly escaped getting into an accident.

For some brief moments afterwards I was so stuck and frustrated thinking about what had just happened, and what could have happened, that before I knew it, I heard a horn honking.

I was so stuck on thinking about what had just happened that I wasn’t paying attention. Before I knew it, I was veering over and I almost cut off someone else in the same way that had just happened to me.  I had to stop myself. I had to refocus and pay closer attention.

Ok so what?

Ok, so that was just one example, but lately I’ve been reminded of a more complicated example in the aftermath of the attacks that took place on September 11th, 2001.

While it is well-known that the events of that day and the lives lost will continue to have a lasting impact in the lives of citizens in the United States and abroad, in responding to the feelings of anger, fear, and loss left in its wake, some Americans reacted in violence or acts of prejudice against other Americans who were in no way responsible for what happened.

The Unheard Voices of 9/11 campaign was launched by the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States to highlight the backlash of discrimination and violence  toward Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims that followed the September 11th attacks.

Even today, American citizens who fit into a certain stereotype continue to be targeted for hate crimes, employment discrimination, and school bullying by ordinary citizens, and profiling by law enforcement agencies.

Here, Rabia Said remembers an experience she had with discrimination when she was eight years old.

The organization South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) created a video campaign asserting that America is for all of us.

In an attempt to “right” what was wrong, those actions instead served and continue to serve the cycle of wrongdoing.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”—Mahatma Gandhi

Something important to point out in thinking about my highway fiasco, the acts of reactionary discrimination, hate crimes, and other situations is the fact that the victims were in no way responsible for the wrong that the perpetrators experienced previously.

This realization also reminds me of how important it is to continually work towards managing myself and my emotions.

Anger, and even fear can cloud our better judgement, give us “tunnel vision” and keep us from seeing the truth.  In some cases, it can drive us to seek “satisfaction” no matter what the cost.

Can you think of times in your own experiences where you might have thought about or behaved in the same manner towards an entirely different person because someone or something else may have upset you?

A friend of mine shared an interesting story about conflict with me recently that I’d never heard before. It’s the story of Two Wolves.

Here’s the Story….(as I’ve heard it)

While sitting around a camp fire, a grandfather said to his grandson “Child, I’m struggling. There are two wolves engaged in a fierce battle inside of me.”

“One wolf is evil, and is fueled by anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, feelings of inferiority, lies, feelings of superiority, false pride, and ego.”

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

In awe after hearing this, the grandson said “Wow Grandfather! Which wolf wins?”

The Grandfather simply replied: “The one I feed.”

Where aspirations to become a better humanitarian can factor in

Personally, I struggle with thinking in absolutes when it relates to concepts such as  “good” and “evil” because of a societal tendency to dehumanize folks who don’t fit into a well established mold of what is considered “right” by the powerful.

However, I didn’t allow my reservations to hinder me from getting the point.

I enjoyed hearing this story because it caused me to think of my own personal battles, the choices I make on a daily basis, and also of how important it is to remain self-aware, especially in conflict.

It’s important to ask ourselves what we’re feeding into. “In my response am I feeding into what will get me to reconciliation, or am I feeding into vengeance?

In thinking of the story moving forward, a task that I’m setting for myself to help me avoid “becoming a monster” in navigating conflict, as well as making life decisions is to work be able to continually ask myself:

“Which wolf am I feeding?”

One aspect of my aspiring humanitarianism is the ongoing process of  living intentionally by working to ensure that my actions are in line with my values.

Even still, sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I fall short. I think we all do from time to time. Working to become a better human is a lifelong process.

In dealing with conflict, self-awareness can help us avoid becoming a part of the problem we’re trying to solve. Support me, as I support you in this ongoing battle with self.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW



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Written by

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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7 Responses

  1. anumsyeda says:

    This was such a great post, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I love the good/evil wolf analogy. I think it is true, that within all of us, there is the capacity for both right and wrong, and it is our choices that determine what path we take. I personally have a very strong struggle with conflict – my entire life I’ve believed, and boxed myself into, this label of “hot-temperedness”. I used to get angry very easily, and as you said, had this constant need to “right” however I had been “wronged”. It has taken many years, and will still be a long time, before I can step out of this bubble I have created, and realize that life is a lot bigger than our daily grumbles; we are quick to judge because we ourselves are hurting emotionally, or cannot empathize with what could be going on in someone else’s life. It’s so important to keep evaluating our actions and decisions – do they solve anything, or do they just cause more harm?

    Thanks again, Relando :) Have a great day.

  2. anumsyeda says:

    Here is an awesome and inspiring piece written by James O’ Dea:

    Some great messages on how to embody peace :)

    • Thanks for taking the time to read through and comment Anum!

      Although, like you I acknowledge that it can be an ongoing and challenging process, I also think that asking ourselves the hard questions can help us move forward past the pain, and into reconciliation. This is something that I have to remind myself of on a consistent basis.

      I also really enjoyed reading the Peace Ambassador document you shared as well, and I’ve posted a link to it on the (N.A.H.) Facebook page.

  3. LovEternal says:

    I love this post as it is something I think about often. The concept of Yin Yang (balance) is something I strive for in my life. That is my logo. We are humans and will always fall short, but striving for balance in everything we do can not steer us in the wrong direction. I have heard the wolf analogy many times and it works well in this example. Although, when it comes to animals there is no such thing as “evil”. Animals just do what their instincts tell them to do. But, that is another story. :) Thanks again for your thoughtful post.

  1. August 6, 2012

    […] As I’ve written in my previous post: “Dealing with Conflict: A Tale of Monsters and 2 Wolves“: […]

  2. October 29, 2012

    […] Speaking out against racism on one hand, while openly advocating for the limitation of the rights and freedoms of others based on how they identify along sexual orientation and gender expressive lines ends with the result of wronging others while trying to “right” wrongs that were done to you. […]

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