Would you prefer to be free as a wolf in the wild, free to roam, or secure on a dog-sled team, safe and well-fed, with purposeful work?
I came across this beautifully filmed short documentary called Vargsamtal, which means wolf call in Swedish. It’s about a dog sledder, Sven Engholm, working in the extreme north of Norway, far above the Arctic Circle. Engholm tells how a group of stray dogs joined his dogsled team on an expedition, and imagines what the howls exchanged between the harnessed dogs and the wild wolves nearby might have meant:
“We had crossed the Obi River where there were various fishing camps. Russian stray dogs were roaming around the camps. They seemed to be surviving on the leftovers from the fishing.
“The dogs began to follow our trail, some of them for several days. We felt bad about them leaving the camps, so my friend said, ‘Let’s give them a harness along with the others and see if they’ll pull the sled.’
“It went surprisingly well as they were big and healthy dogs, pretty similar to ours.
“At night we noticed three or four heads popping up behind the dunes…a wolf pack stalking us for several days.
“When we were freezing in the tent we could hear the wolves howl and the dogs answering back. It was like they were talking to each other, as if they were having a conversation, understanding each other.
“The wolves say: ‘You dogs are so dumb pulling that sled without purpose. We’re wolves and we can run free. We represent freedom and we do as we please.’
“The Russian stray dogs answer, ‘We also know what it’s like to be free: that means being hungry, getting hunted. That freedom of yours has a heavy price. We like this expedition. They give us food and shelter and we work from 9 to 5.’
“That’s how we imagined an argument between dogs and wolves.”
Freedom versus security is really a false choice, since we always want both and try to maintain a reasonable balance between them. But sometimes, one side may feel too extreme for comfort and the balance becomes skewed. When that happens, we feel the need to offset it.
Unwanted behavior like emotional eating is motivated by something, whether we’re aware of the motive or not. When the control that security or conformity requires begins to feel constraining, we may counterbalance it by acting in some way that goes against our normal preferences to emphasize our autonomy and restore equilibrium.
Often, the need to achieve psychological balance can be even more important than acting in our own best interest.
My book, 8 Keys to End Emotional Eating: Autonomy and the Spirit of Rebellion is forthcoming from W.W. Norton in the Summer of 2019. It’s available now for pre-order on Amazon.