As I sat in the sand on the Gulf Coast with family watching a beautiful sunset on Easter Sunday in the midst of the political turmoil gripping our country, the old Cherokee parable of the two wolves kept bouncing around in my head.
At another sunset long ago, an elder Cherokee told his grandson about a conflict that goes on within people. The grandfather said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all."
"One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, regret, greed, arrogance, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego," he said. "The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson considered this all for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The old Cherokee paused and said, "The one you feed."
The truth of this is profound, I believe. In each of us is dark and light, a paradox of values that makes us the human beings we are. And ultimately, in each of our journeys we must decide which part of us we will encourage and feed. And the legacy we leave our families, our loved ones and our communities is contingent not on what we gain in this world, but upon which wolf wins within us.
The same is true in our politics today and will be assuredly true in the unfolding of the presidential campaign of 2016. There are two wolves in battle in our country today just as there are in our own selves. I am not referring to the rightness or wrongness of either political party or ideological side. I am talking about the way we communicate with each and the manner we lead a nation hungry for a new way.
So much of our campaigns and political discourse feeds the wolf of dissension, hatred, bitterness, pettiness and meanness. It is a wolf of judgment, pointing fingers and questioning another's motives. It is one of raised voices, shouting and name calling. This wolf is a campaign of "war rooms" that seeks to crush the other side. And there are too many today that believe this is the way to win or achieve success. And while temporarily at times this may be true, in the long term it is disastrous for our country.
We need campaigns and a media that appeals to people's best instincts, to a sense of compassion for others, a politics that sees the humanity in each other and that brings us together as a unified America. It is a discourse and a way to communicate that, while passionate, has a calmness at its core. It is the wolf of quieter strength and love which seeks to understand and bring closer. It is having campaigns of peace with a broad mission at their center.
Many times in my past life as a strategist in politics, I have too often fed the wolf of division in pursuit of a higher goal. And while achieving victory, at times, I have realized this is not good for our country or the citizens who dream of a better life. I have come to the conclusion that the means of politics and governing is in need of repair, and I want to try and act this out as best I can -- even, at times, imperfectly.
Do I believe it is possible to have campaigns and a politics that appeals to the wolf of unity and compassion as opposed to the wolf of division and meanness? Yes. But it won't be easy. And we each must try to do it one step at a time in our lives and our own ways. We must act out in our small circles the politics we want to see in our larger circles of leadership.
Unfortunately, in politics today, those who want to feed the good wolf are seen as naive or silly, and many in the media reward bitterness with celebrity and airtime. And so candidates push to divide, and operatives create plans to exacerbate conflict and fighting. And every time an issue drops into the American conversation -- such as the "religious freedom" law debate in Indiana, or the uproar over the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, or controversies over immigration -- it becomes ripe for somebody to feed the bad wolf. This has inevitably happened, and some media have become complicit in the unfolding.
It is time we say, "enough" -- that we turn off politicians and pundits that shout at each other or name call or show meanness, no matter if they represent right or left. It is time we each stop operating from an ends-justify-the-means mode and we push for a whole different means -- a means of coming together, not ripping apart. We each need to create space so that leaders who seek a better way have room to grow and foster harmony across this great land.
It is time we each recognize that two wolves exist in each of us and in the country today, and we have to decide which one we feed. Feeding the path of goodness is a choice, and I am trying to take my own steps in that direction, because that will create the leaders we so desperately hunger for. It won't be easy, but it is the only way for the good wolf to win.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd, founder of ListenTo.Us, is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.
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