Alienation From Self, Authenticity, Bad Ideas, Being True To Yourself, Cultural Traits, Culture, Emotions, Free Spirit, Human Nature, Self, Self-Integration, Self-Knowledge, Spirituality, Wisdom

Dealing With Our Light and Dark Sides

(About a 4 minute read)

I have been thinking lately that, if we wish to live our lives to their fullest — that is, if we wish to flourish — then we will keep in touch with both the good and the bad in us, with both our light and our dark sides.

I’m not an avid fan of the notion — most famously expressed in Star Wars — that the two are separate discrete things, or that they can be split apart in any meaningful way.  However, it seems we are under considerable societal pressure to believe just that: That we not only can but ought to feed and nourish our good side, while starving out bad side.

But is that wise?

It seems easy to believe it is.  Take this popular example of alleged wisdom, for instance:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I have seen dozens of often lengthy blog posts that quote the grandfather and child, and then go on to elaborate on the message of the two wolves.  None that I have seen had ever questioned it.  All have assumed it speaks wisdom.

But I don’t think it does.  Here’s why.  In the first place, when you really look at it, good and bad is an artificial division of us.  We are not actually divided into two parts — that’s only how we have been trained to see ourselves.

I think in truth, it would be better to look at ourselves as if we were ecosystems.  Humans tend to be fools when it comes to ecosystems.  Although there are some folks on earth who act wisely when dealing with their local ecosystems, most of us seem to be always be doing something to knock things out of wack — and with often devastating results.

Don’t like snakes?  Then kill all the snakes.  But now the rat population is exploding, eating all your stored grain, and your pigs are malnourished.  It’s much the same with our own psychology.

Envy can have many negative consequences, and few positive ones, but it does seem to be closely associated with consciousness such that it would be difficult to impossible to root it out without altering our consciousness. Moreover, it serves at least one positive function.

Envy motivates us to oppose inequalities such the dangerous disparity between rich and poor that is exploding around the world, and which will certainly one day prove lethal to democracy, if not addressed soon. Imagine if suddenly no one anywhere in the world cared that the rich are rapidly getting richer and the poor are getting poorer?  You would have an oligarch or a dictatorship in every country within the near future.

For those and other reasons, I think it’s unwise to “kill all the snakes” in us.  But does that mean I want us to all become murderers, rapists, and robbers?

Of course not.  There has to be some self-control.  We cannot allow ourselves to go too far.  But consider this: The same passion that might drive you to murder could be channeled into energy with which to accomplish so much of actual benefit to us.

At any rate, those are my thoughts for the morning on this matter.  I might return to the subject sometime in the future.

Questions?  Comments?

11 thoughts on “Dealing With Our Light and Dark Sides”

  1. Interesting. I think I have used that very story in one of my posts some time ago. Can’t remember exactly what context. I’m now thinking I hope it was a tad more insightful, along the lines of your thoughts. It’s a balance of the yin/yang, or the Jungian shadow self, or whatever other analogy one wants to use. I agree we have both. One cannot exist without the other, how else would we know what is light and what is dark? I don’t personally like to use the words good and bad/evil. Semantics 🙂 Both serve a purpose.


  2. I agree.
    That’s why I like the Tao. It’s about balance and acceptance.
    It’s why I like horror, too. A place for all the dark impulses to be aired.
    Once I accept a darkness in me, it ceases to consume my mind.


  3. This is something new and fresh! Good and bad are tightly coupled and aren’t these definitions created by us. What may be good to one, could be bad to another. Perceptions.


    1. Thank you, my new friend! I completely agree: We see things as good or bad because our brains impose those categories on them. The categories do not actually exist in nature, but are created by our perceptions. Good point!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting post Paul. I’ve read that wolf story many times. As it applies to us, yes, we all have light and dark sides within us, we wouldn’t be human otherwise and how could we possibly appreciate one without the other. As a Libran, for me it’s always about balance.
    Have a great weekend!


  5. Thanks for the heads up on this post, Paul. I’ve always wondered about that story of the two wolves. As a caretaker (I don’t like the word “owner” even if that is technically true) of the land I live on, I know just what you mean about how humans can throw the balance of things out of whack, and it has seemed to me that it’s best not to starve or overfeed either wolf. Nature knows what’s she’s doing.

    I’ve been drawing and working with mandalas for the the past year or two. The workshop that started my passion for mandalas included words/essays from Jung on working with our “shadow” side. As you pointed out, there is power in those so-called negative emotions.


    1. I’ve been thinking since posting this that anyone attempting to repress half of themselves is a bit like a bird trying to soar on just one wing.

      Beyond that, I love your refusal to think of yourself as an owner, but rather as a caretaker. That makes so much sense to me. So much.

      I wish I were more familiar with Jung. I do recognize his concept of the “shadow” though.


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