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Hope is a strategy

by Mark Ackerman, PA, Clearwater Valley Health

There is an old story attributed to Native American cultures, and most commonly the Cherokee Nation about two wolves that are inside of every person. The story is about a grandfather telling his young grandson about these two wolves and how they are constantly fighting. One wolf represents goodness and the other represents evil. The grandson, after patiently listening to his grandfather asks, "What wolf wins the fight." The grandfather answers "The one you feed!"

It is clear that this story applies to all of us. We are all conflicted at times and the story applies to our health and wellness as much as it applies to our work and our relationships. We have a choice to feed or starve certain ideas, and much of what happens to us and to others is determined by those decisions.

I think the story can also be about not just recognizing the difference between the good and the evil that can exist in all of us, but recognizing any number of conflicting virtues or vices that we have and the many conflicting emotions we have. Take for example the emotions of hope vs fear that has been a large part of our national consciousness lately. Thanks to the covid-19 virus, there is a lot of fear going around these days and very little hope.

This is especially true at this time of year when we have just celebrated Thanksgiving and our attention is now turning towards Christmas. And while not all Americans celebrate these two holidays, you can still understand the fact that we have seasons of hope and thanksgiving built into our American culture. Having just celebrated a national holiday about being thankful for things, we now turn our attention to the season of hope. Many of our children are hopeful about getting a great gift in the next few weeks while there are still several adults who are hopeful that we will receive "Peace on earth and good will towards men." Others are more hopeful about the new calendar year and what 2022 will bring us.

Unfortunately, the season of hope is being blurred by the dark cloud of the covid virus. If it weren't bad enough to have every news outlet talking about how all the indoor festivities are going to increase the number of infections over the holidays, they are also now talking about the new Omicron variant that was just discovered in South Africa.

So here we are again; there are two wolves fighting inside each of us. One represents hope and the other represents fear. Who is going to win?

Let's start with the fear side, because that is always the easier wolf to identify. When reading the latest articles today there was plenty of fear mongering about the new variant. The articles say that this variant is not only more infectious but is most likely more deadly and most likely not covered by the current vaccines given that it has over 30 different mutations. In New York, the governor has already declared a "State of Emergency" and travel bans have cropped up everywhere.

Now let's look at the hopeful wolf. This one is much harder to identify. It is represented by the scientists who point out that Covid is following the typical wave virus pattern. There are always new variants (or waves) and some get bigger but some do not. It is felt that eventually the waves will calm down and we will end up with a steady state infection rate. The proponents of this tell us that each variant will be more contagious (bigger) than the last variant but less lethal. They also point out that there is a good chance that vaccines will be helpful against the new variant yet more testing needs to be done. In addition, there have been many covid variants that have been given the moniker "Variant of Concern" only to fizzle out and not produce much disease. It is possible the Omicron variant will follow that pattern too.

So how do we react towards this new information? Personally, I am in the camp of starving the fearful wolf and feeding the hopeful wolf. This is not putting my head in the sand and "hoping" it will turn out alright. I think we need to make a distinction between "hope" and "wishes." A "hope" is having a positive attitude knowing that you have done all you can about an issue whereas a "wish" is an act of giving up and taking the position that you can't do anything to change the outcome. Hope is what the little kids have at Christmas when they have been good all year long. A wish is what the other kids have at Christmas when they know they haven't been good all year.

Now if you have read any of my articles in the past, you know that I always like to include some sports metaphors in my writing in order to make a point. Most coaches and athletes would disagree with this statement, however, I do think that "Hope" is a strategy for winning games. At times, we will all face opponents that are more talented than we are but that does not mean we should lose hope in the battle. We have to remember that "Talent doesn't determine outcomes, it only determines margin of error." That is, more talented teams can make more errors and still win whereas less talented teams can win only if they make less mistakes than their more talented opponents. Our hope then is that we prepare for battles with the idea of making less errors.

So when it comes to covid I want to reiterate something that I have said in past articles and I want to be very black and white about this issue. We know what types of patients are at greater risk of dying from covid (and our blood test biomarkers are getting better at predicting this). If you have increased risk then mitigate your risk. Control your blood sugars, stop smoking, lose weight and get in shape, be compliant with your medications. In short, you should have hope if you commit to making fewer errors. The message here is not to shrink in fear, but to prepare for battle. Hope Is A Strategy. For your mental health, your physical health and your spiritual health, feed the Hopeful Wolf!

Photo: Mark Ackerman, PA, Clearwater Valley Health

Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544
Phone: (208) 476-0733
Fax: (208) 476-4140