There is a battle within each of us.
In the Native American legend “Two Wolves,” a grandfather explains this inner conflict to his grandson. Within each of us reside two wolves. The first wolf represents selfishness, intolerance and superiority. The second wolf believes in compassion and generosity and that there is enough to go around if we work together.
The grandson asks, “Which wolf will win?” That’s a question I often asked myself while writing this “minority report” column—what will be the outcome of efforts to improve social justice? The first wolf is clawing through a wide swath of initiatives.
Changes in the law sometimes fall prey. In North Carolina, Amendment One seeks to constitutionally deny civil unions, even as same-sex marriage is legally barred. On the national level, the Supreme Court is going to deliver decisions within the next few months regarding affirmative action and health care reform; Both are in danger of being struck down.
Our societal norms and institutions are often dragged through the mud by the obstinate first wolf. Despite equal protection under the law, we still lack equality of opportunity. Few women break the upper echelon of politics or business, as evidenced by the 2.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women. The criminal justice system has a racial bias and has locked up a larger percentage of our black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
At Duke, sexual assault is a pernicious problem and is difficult to report for various reasons, yet the statute of limitations on these cases has been reduced, from two years to one. What is worse than this administrative misstep is the fact that these sexual assault crimes can even happen within the Duke community. It is obvious that the first wolf is alive and kicking.
But the second wolf perseveres for inclusion and compassion.
On the political front, students are mobilizing against Amendment One, to the credit of campaigns like Duke Together and many individuals on both sides of the political spectrum.
University policies are checked by students. When the sexual misconduct policy was changed, groups like Develle Dish raised awareness, and over 1,300 individuals signed a petition protesting the reduced sexual assault statute of limitations. Through the work of the new group Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke, students have called for responsible University investment policies that we can proudly stand behind.
As far as societal norms and institutions go, the “Who Needs Feminism?” campaign has inspired national attention surrounding gender and sexism. The campaign itself never defines the word “feminism,” but it reveals and refines perceptions. In January, the Black Student Alliance presented the Black Culture Initiative to Duke’s administration, and in doing so, illuminated many areas of needed improvement, such as the dearth of black faculty and administrators.
The campaigns listed here are of course a small fraction of the whole. For the last year, I have only been able to observe these campaigns from across the Atlantic Ocean, but their visibility to me from abroad emphasizes their strength and convinces me of their authenticity. They are my reminder that the second wolf has a real chance of survival over his evil twin.
Since there is power on both sides of justice and injustice, what will determine the landscape of equality one hundred years from now?
In the Native American legend, the grandson asks, “Which wolf will win?”
“The one you feed,” his grandfather replies.
The wolf that we feed is the one that will ultimately prevail. Resolving the conflict of intolerance versus inclusion rests on the effort and the faith we place on either side. That means apathy towards injustice or waiting for someone else to take a stand favors the first wolf. The triumph of the second wolf requires advocating whenever someone is marginalized, not only when you are the concerned person or group.
I like the Native American story because it reminds me that a more equitable society is a goal that is both ambitious and attainable. It reminds me of the agency we have in crafting our own outcomes and the goals of social justice within places and issues that ostensibly seem out of our control. At Duke, we know the difference between bad devils and good (blue) devils. As the legend says, we also have the chance to distinguish between the selfish wolf and its kinder counterpart. We choose which will prosper, and that’s one of many decisions transcending our years at Duke.
Rajlakshmi De is a Trinity junior and is studying abroad at the London School of Economics. This is her final column of the semester.