From a David Barash piece in the New York Times (Are We Hard-Wired for War?):
“There is a story, believed to be of Cherokee origin, in which a girl is troubled by a recurring dream in which two wolves fight viciously. Seeking an explanation, she goes to her grandfather, highly regarded for his wisdom, who explains that there are two forces within each of us, struggling for supremacy, one embodying peace and the other, war. At this, the girl is even more distressed, and asks her grandfather who wins. His answer: “The one you feed.”
I like the story and the premise, that we may have multiple internal forces or ‘voices,’ but that there is also some executive decision maker within us that can choose which ones to nurture and cultivate. However, circumstances also play a large role — socialization, perceptions of injustice, fear of insecurity, relationships with our neighbors — in which voices we listen to. The rational executive is not always in complete control; instead, it’s a complex dialogue. As Jaak Panskepp once wrote:
Despite the appeal of (the) rational fallacy, our higher brain areas are not immune to the subcortical influences we share with other creatures. Of course, the interchange between cognitive and emotional processes is one of reciprocal control, but the flow of traffic remains balanced only in nonstressful circumstances. In emotional turmoil, the upward influences of subcortical emotional circuits on the higher reaches of the brain are stronger than top-down controls. Although humans can strengthen and empower the downward controls through emotional education and self-mastery, few can ride the whirlwind of unbridled emotions with great skill.” (Panksepp, 2004: 301)
Who’s in charge here?
Panksepp J. 2004. Affective Neuroscience: the Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford Univ Press.