David Earl Johnson, LICSW

4 minute read

The seal of the Cherokee Nation.

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Even in our high-tech world, our understanding of emotions is dominated by culture. FirstPeople.us
“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.””
Negative emotion is thought of as evil, perhaps even the embodiment of Lucifer’s influence upon us. Positive emotions are considered good, for some, the manifestation of God’s will. Could it be that simple? Recall one of our 20th Century morality dramas, Star Trek, the episode, The Enemy Within.
The Enemy Within (Star Trek)

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    <blockquote>
      &#8220;While orbiting the planet Alfa 177, the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Enterprise_%28NCC-1701%29" title="USS Enterprise (NCC-1701)" rel="wikipedia" class="zem_slink">U.S.S. Enterprise</a> experiences a transporter malfunction&#8230;. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_T._Kirk" title="James T. Kirk" rel="wikipedia" class="zem_slink">Captain Kirk</a> beams aboard. Kirk leaves with his officers and when the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transporter_%28Star_Trek%29" title="Transporter (Star Trek)" rel="wikipedia" class="zem_slink">transporter room</a> is deserted, a second Kirk materializes on the pad. When a space animal is beamed aboard the starship and splits into two entities; one tame and one vicious, it is discovered that the same thing has happened to Kirk. While one Kirk is good and honorable, the other is evil and runs amok on his ship, committing violent acts, including the attempted assault of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janice_Rand" title="Janice Rand" rel="wikipedia" class="zem_slink">Yeoman Janice Rand</a>. <span style="font-size: 9px;">[&#8230;]</span>As time passes, the &#8220;good&#8221; Kirk is weakening, losing his ability to make decisions, while his &#8220;evil&#8221; half is dying. Neither Kirk can survive without his other half. <span style="font-size: 9px;">[&#8230;]</span>Scotty effects repairs on the transporter, but there&#8217;s no time to test it. McCoy is fearful because the &#8220;space dog&#8221; which had been split earlier, had gone through the repaired transporter and, while joined into one animal, was dead. Kirk takes the chance and beams down with his counterpart and returns to the U.S.S. Enterprise whole and alive.&#8221;
    </blockquote> So which is true, are negative emotions the scourge of our existence? Or do we need both kinds of emotion to make us complete? Are negative emotions always evil, inspiring only the most despicable manifestations of our behavior? Or does the negative serve to differentiate, elaborate and balance the positive? Why would we have both kinds of emotions if we didn&#8217;t need them? Whether your put your faith in 

    <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection" title="Natural selection" rel="wikipedia" class="zem_slink">natural selection</a> or God, would we expend so much negative energy if we didn&#8217;t need it? Contrary to popular belief, Will Power is a Indy car driver and he has nothing to do with motivation. Our motivations are largely emotionally driven. Negative emotions push us to face and act on those things that make us most uncomfortable. Positive emotions allow us to enjoy success and give us energy to meet new challenges. But negative emotions inspire us to make changes. Misery is perhaps the most creative force in our lives. Seldom do we make major changes in our lives without considerable emotional pain. Each negative emotion comes complete with an intuitive guide to action. Anger pushes us to stand up for ourselves and speak up when we&#8217;ve been treated with disrespect. Fear makes us hyper-vigilant to potential danger and readies us to duck or run away if needed. Sadness makes us review over and over again what we&#8217;ve lost. That ruminative search is for the knowledge to compensate for our loss and meaning and wisdom to understand our lives from a new perspective. Guilt reminds us of our responsibility in the errors we make and motivates us to work to understand our mistakes and learn how to avoid repeating them. So next time you feel overwhelmed by vile emotions and thoughts, sit with them; make sense of them. Trace them to their origins; understand what they might mean for you today. Then, make a reasoned decision what should be done. As hard as it is to sit with a foul emotion, you will find it an amazingly creative force for change. 

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