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Seagull Philosophy – 2

Feed the right wolf

There is a Cherokee fable in which an old man is trying to teach his grandson about self-awareness. 

“There is a terrible fight going on in my head young Grandson,” the old man says.

“It is between two wolves. One is fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority and lies”.

“The other,” he continues, “Is joy, serenity, empathy, generosity, humility, kindness, hope, serenity, truth, and faith.”

The boy falls silent, thinking. The old man adds, “The same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.”

The boy nods and considers the words of his grandfather. He finally asks, “Which wolf will win?”

“The one you feed,” the old man replies.

Psychological Weakness

Inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, one of the most important sites in ancient Greece, was the simple phase, “know thyself”. Ever since, and certainly long before, philosophers have understood that self-knowledge forms the basis of all wisdom.

Self-knowledge is simple in concept but difficult in practice because human psychology is complex.

There are many different opinions about how our minds work. My favourite explanation comes from a

“There is a terrible fight going on in my head young Grandson,” the old man says.

“It is between two wolves. One is fear, anger, envy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority and lies”.

“The other,” he continues, “Is joy, serenity, empathy, generosity, humility, kindness, hope, serenity, truth, and faith.”

The boy falls silent, thinking. The old man adds, “The same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.”

The boy nods and considers the words of his grandfather. He finally asks, “Which wolf will win?”

“The one you feed,” the old man replies.

If you want honest self-assessment, you have to ask the right wolf.

We are all conflicted and, according to the ancients, the path to wisdom only begins when we start to recognize and resolve these inner conflicts.

Both wolves serve a purpose. One is motivated by fear and a desire to protect the self-image from harm. It seeks control. This wolf kicks in subconsciously when our thinking causes anxiety, which is a form of pain. It is most necessary in the early stages of our development. It shields us from reality, protects us from trauma and helps us to maintain a confident self-image in the early years of development.

The second wolf is motivated by a sense of wonder and a desire for self-development. It seeks freedom. As we get older and become more comfortable with the world, the idea is that we feed this wolf more. We get better at seeing the truth. In the words of the ancient philosopher Solon, we make reason our supreme commander.

People with poor emotional development have fed the first wolf for too long. Such people are typically described as having big egos but in reality their egos are just poorly developed. Regardless of their intelligence, and such people can be highly intelligent and successful, people like this become deluded and prone to emotional thinking. In the extreme, they become sociopaths.

Most of us, thankfully, are not like this. We develop well beyond the emotional responses of a child and our emotional development is more than sufficient to deal with the regular routine of daily life

However, when stressed or tired or in unfamiliar circumstances, emotional thinking can kick in as an automatic defence mechanism. At such times, if we don’t have an easy answer, we just make one up. Have you ever done this? This is emotional thinking and it is precisely what happens to most of us when investing.

The reality is that most of us are not sufficiently equipped to deal with the volatility and high frequency of error and confusion in financial markets. The confusion and uncertainty of the markets causes anxiety, which registers as pain in the subconscious mind. The subconscious defences of the ego avert this pain by skipping reality. This is why fear and greed take over when most people are investing.

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