Hatred or compassion. Which is ahead?

The Cherokee tell story of an old man talking to his grandson. “There are two wolves fighting inside each of us” he says. “One wolf brings anger, aggression, and wounded pride. The other wolf leads us towards compassion and love.” “Which wins?” asks the boy. “The one that we feed” is grandfather’s reply.

By many measures the wolf of hatred and wounded pride is gaining the upper hand. Sociologists since the 1970’s have traced a steady decline in trust between US adults, with a concurrent increase in cynicism. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual report The Year in Hate and Extremism records the number of hate groups in America as growing steadily through the decade, with 2009 being its highest level ever, “driven largely by an angry backlash against non-white immigration and, starting in the last year […] the economic meltdown and the climb to power of an African American president.”

And in February 2007, UNICEF gave a shockingly low grade to how US adolescents treat each other, when compared to their peers in other industrialized nations. The UNICEF Innocenti Report on Child Wellbeing found that when it comes to the quality of young people’s family and peer relationships, American adolescents rank second from last (outdone only by the UK) in kindness and helpfulness. If you want kind kids, go to Switzerland or Portugal!

The dialectic between hatred and compassion is real, and so too is grandfather’s advice to feed the wolf that we wish to have the upper hand. Though the task of shifting the dialectic at the national level is enormous, we can feed the wolf of compassion and starve the wolf of hatred and wounded pride in our own lives, our own classrooms and our own schools. A few days ago Gunn High School posted a video demonstrating their support for tolerance and love in the face of a visit by Fred Phelps’ Hate Group, Kansas based church group. Watch it here. You will be moved and inspired.