Guilty Pleasure – I have a confession to make: I have developed a habit of putting my finger in the middle of a book I’ve been reading, thumbing ahead, and reading the ending, just to see how it all turns out. Although my husband considers this to be cheating, I just can’t help myself. In a way, I do this to see if my narrative instincts are on track: I try to predict the outcome and then I read ahead to see how far on (or off) the mark I am. Although some people might think this ruins the story for me, (you can just hear them saying, “don’t tell me how it turns out!”). In fact, it increases my pleasure in that if a work is well-written, the ending is always a surprise that captivates me and makes me want to finish the rest of book just to find out what twists and turns the author takes to wind up there.
Proposition — despite what Hollywood (and English Departments across the globe) would like us to think, there is but one story in all the world, endlessly repeated and played out in a legion of seemingly fresh and innovative variations. Truth be told, they are just that: variations on a single theme. Perhaps the best synopsis of this timeless, universal saga can be found in the Cherokee wisdom story of the two wolves: speaking to his grandson about life, a tribal elder tells the youngster that inside him there is a terrible fight going on all the time between two wolves. The first wolf is good, and is characterized by love, peace, joy, hope, serenity, kindness, truth, compassion, and faith. The second wolf is evil, and is characterized by fear, anger, greed, superiority, jealousy, guilt, resentment, inferiority, false pride, arrogance, and ego. The elder concludes by telling the young boy that not only is the same fight inside him, but inside every other person as well. The grandson thinks about this for a few minutes and then asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” and the old Cherokee responds, “The one you feed.”
Stranger Than Fiction – a central theme that’s not limited solely to fictive narratives, this good vs. evil dynamic plays out in seemingly inexhaustible scenarios in real life as well. Consider, for example, the recent rioting in London, which occurred a few weeks ago, over several days in early August (2011). In the wake of such a fearsome display of unprecedented and chaotic violence, as Britain struggled to come to grips with the causes that led groups of “feral youth” to loot and pillage their own neighbors, consensus of opinion quickly pointed toward the entire nation’s moral decline as a leading factor. In an article that produced substantive online traffic, (and over 50,000 Facebook likes) Peter Oborne, chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, opines: “Indeed, I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.” Proponents promptly endorsed Oborne’s position from both sides of the political divide.
Ethical Dilemma– the only problem with pointing to moral decay as the root cause of violence is that it feeds the wrong wolf. First, although governments around the globe have attempted to enshrine moral codes in statutes designed to regulate not only public, but intimately private conduct, the fact is that morality cannot be legislated. Although it’s safe to say that behavior is observable and can be regulated, morality is something that people carry around with them on the inside. Second, while it’s arguable that behavior is an outgrowth of morality, judging others as morally “disintegrated” places the observer in a position of moral superiority (the “evil” wolf’s territory). This promulgates a climate of fear, in which more violence can thrive. Third, the statement, good vs. evil, is perhaps in itself too simplistic a reduction of the underlying forces at work. Another way of framing the root cause of violence is this: rather than moral decline (or even failure) it’s safe to say that anything not motivated by love (the province of the “good” wolf) can be attributed to (and is the direct result of) its absence.
Finish Line – in the example set by bands of residents who formed “broom brigades” to help their neighbors clean up the mess, we witness a more germane response. As an act of compassion, supplying what’s lacking feeds the “good” wolf. It restores sanity and shifts the focus away from fear and the conflict it engenders. There is no story without conflict. No conflict — end of story.