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Tale of the Maligned Wolf

Things are often not what they seem in conflict. We tend to confuse “our side of the story” with “the truth” or “what really happened.” This classic story, The Maligned Wolf is one of my favorite illustrations of this idea.

The forest was my home. I lived there, and I cared about it. I tried to keep it neat and clean.

Then one sunny day, while I was cleaning up some garbage a camper had left behind, I heard footsteps. I leaped behind a tree and saw a little girl coming down the trail carrying a basket. I was suspicious of this little girl right away because she was dressed funny — all in red, and her head covered up as if she did not want people to know who she was.

Naturally, I stopped to check her out. I asked who she was, where she was going, where she had come from, and all that. She gave me a song and dance about going to her grandmother’s house with a basket of lunch. She appeared to be a basically honest person, but she was in my forest, and she certainly looked suspicious with that strange getup of hers. So I decided to teach her just how serious it is to prance through the forest unannounced and dressed funny.
I let her go on her way, but I ran ahead of her to grandmother’s house. When I saw that nice old woman, I explained my problem and she agreed that her granddaughter needed to learn a lesson all right. The old woman agreed to stay out of sight until I called her. Actually, she hid under the bed.

When the girl arrived, I invited her into the bedroom where I was in bed, dressed like the grandmother. The girl came in all rosy-cheeked and said something nasty about my big ears. I’ve been insulted before so I made the best of it by suggesting that my big ears would help me to hear better. Now, what I meant was that I liked her and wanted to pay close attention to what she was saying. But she made another insulting crack about my bulging eyes. Now you can see how I was beginning to feel about this girl who put on such a nice front, but was apparently a very nasty person. Still, I’ve made it a policy to turn the other cheek, so I told her that my big eyes helped me to see her better.

Her next insult really got to me. I’ve got this problem with having big teeth, and that little girl made an insulting crack about them. I know that I should have had better control, but I leaped up from that bed and growled that my teeth would help me to eat her better.

Now let’s face it — no wolf could ever eat a little girl — everyone knows that — but that crazy girl started running around the house screaming — me chasing her to calm her down. I’d taken off the grandmother’s clothes, but that only seemed to make it worse. All of a sudden the door came crashing open, and a big lumberjack is standing there with his axe. I looked at him, and all of sudden it came clear that I was in trouble. There was an open window behind me and out I went.

I’d like to say that was the end of it. But that Grandmother character never did tell my side of the story. Before long the word got around that I was a mean, nasty guy. Everybody started avoiding me. I don’t know about that little girl with the funny red outfit, but I didn’t live happily ever after.

The Maligned Wolf © 1980 Leif Fearn. Used with permission.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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