Lessons of the Wolfpack

Your gifts are uniquely yours, and who you truly are behind the various masks isn’t determined by your parents, or your teachers, or your friends. It’s not up to other people who you are. At the same time, you are called to manifest yourself in a social context – to bring your gifts to the benefit of others.

Some nonhuman species illustrate how unique individual gifts are used for the benefit of the group. Marc Bekoff asked:
“Did David Greybeard, the chimpanzee who Jane Goodall notably was the first to observe using a tool, have any idea of who he was? Do elephants, dolphins, cats, magpies, mice, salmon, ants or bees know who they are?” (LiveScience, 2013 Sep 19)
Maybe nonhuman animals do know who they are. Maybe they even know it better than we humans do.

Wolves, for instance, like our primate ancestors, evolved to live in packs. Yes, there is the occasional lone wolf, but a wolf is at a severe survival disadvantage without its pack. A single wolf doesn’t have all the gifts to survive. Eventually, lone wolves die or rejoin a pack.

Individual wolves bring different gifts to the pack. There is an alpha pair. These are the ones who produce puppies and lead the pack, but not always. Any motivated wolf can lead, and pack activity can be based on the impulses of several pack members. The lead wolves depend on what other pack members are doing, the varying gifts of their packmates. While one wolf may lead an attack to defend its territory or protect the pups, other wolves will pull back off a useless fight with bears. Instead of judging them cowardly, let’s say evolution needed a wolfpack's members to exhibit a range of attack readiness vs. prudent withdrawal. Other wolves have exceptional senses of smell to find the prey, but are not swift of foot. Others are swift and can bring down prey but may never be the ones to produce young.

You see, gifts in social animals were not meant to work alone, but in a complex array that ensures pack survival. Typically one pair has the pups, and the whole pack helps raise them. Each is father, mother, and parent, bringing what gifts they can to increase the chances the young will flourish. By keeping the young alive, the pack preserves the species. By preserving the species, the pack preserves the health of a whole ecosystem.

This is what we are here to do – use our gifts for ourselves, our community, and the earth. Then we know who we are. Then we become who we are. And though we don’t choose our gifts (they choose us), what we can choose is to bring out who we are to bless the world.

As my favorite verse from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas says:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Bring it forth and choose to bless the world.

I conclude with this poem by Rev. Rebecca Parker:
Your gifts whatever you discover them to be
can be used to bless or curse the world.
The mind's power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting
Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
bind up wounds,
welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred,
do the work of justice
or offer love.
Any of these can draw down the prison door
hoard bread,
abandon the poor,
obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice
or withhold love.
You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?
Choose to bless the world.
The choice to bless the world
Can take you into solitude
To search for the sources
Of power and grace
Native wisdom, healing, and liberation
More the choice will draw you into community
The endeavor shared
The heritage passed on
The companionship of struggle
The importance of keeping faith
The life of ritual and praise
The comfort of human friendship
The company of earth
Its chorus of life
Welcoming you
None of us alone can save the world
Together – that is another possibility, waiting

* * *
This is part 5 of 5 of "Vocation: Who Are You?"
Previous: Part 4: "Joining Self and Service"
Beginning: Part 1: "Proverbial Vision"

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