We sat there, pondering that age-old question, are people born good, evil, or both? As we debated the different aspects and examples of good and bad, nature versus nurture, a friend of ours who caught the conversation midway interjected with an idea so profound. He was Native American, Nez Perce to be exact. Like my own African tribal heritage, his culture was one rich in wisdom handed down for hundreds and thousands of years through paintings and oral tradition—every paint stroke and word told a story, and every story had a moral. He didn’t remember the story word for word, but he still tried his best to capture its lesson and meaning.
“A grandfather sits down with his grandson one evening as they enjoy the warmth of the fire that dances in front of them,” he said. “The grandson then asks his grandfather if people are born good or evil. The grandfather tells him that every person is born with two wolves inside them, and these wolves are in constant battle. One is evil and is full of jealousy, rage, greed, arrogance, deceitfulness, and other vices. The other is the opposite. It embodies all that is good—love, kindness, honesty, humbleness, and more.”
The grandson then asks his grandfather which wolf wins, and the grandfather responds, “The one you feed!”
We waited for our friend to say more, but that was it—the end. Such a simple story, yet so profound. I was blown away by how much sense it made—the idea that we’re born good and bad, but depending on the decisions we make and actions we take, we can become more of one than the other. If we walk a bad path, we feed the bad wolf, and over time, it becomes stronger and overpowers the good one. If we walk a good path, we feed the good wolf, and over time, it becomes stronger and overpowers the bad one. Eventually, we either become inherently good or inherently bad—not to be confused with saying good people aren’t capable of doing bad things or becoming bad, or bad people aren’t capable of doing good things and becoming good.
We live in a world in which the line between good and bad, right and wrong, can sometimes be blurry. But those moments of fuzziness are few and far apart, because in the greater scheme of things, the contrast between right and wrong, good and bad is clearly defined in our laws, our religions, our cultures, and much more. So, it’s not a question of whether people are born good or bad; it’s a question of whether they have the capacity to distinguish between the two, the integrity to strive to pick good over bad, and the humility to feel remorse and always endeavor to do better when they’ve picked wrong over right.
Sincerely, Kwapi Vengesayi
From Kwapi Vengesayi‘s book, Men Cheat More, Women Cheat Better: Stories and Conversations About Love, Life and Everything in Between (2017) Available on Amazon