If… you could feed 2 wolves within, which one would you feed?

– Posted in: Achievement Orientation, Adaptability, Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Self-Control, Positive Outlook, Self-Awareness
Reflection - Choose Well

“If” is a poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1909, 2 years after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for literature.   Rudyard Kipling wrote the Jungle Book and notably declined honours several times such as being knighted, the Order of Merit, and the British Poet Laureateship.

Kipling was called on later in the 1920’s by H. E. T. Haultain of the University of Toronto, to write the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer, after two bridge disasters in Quebec that killed 88 workers in total. What was tragic was that the issues were known before the collapse but were not addressed by people in charge in time to save those lives. I’ve been through this ritual 20 years ago now, and the essence of it — to protect the public interest by calling out issues early– is still with me.

However, only recently did I read the poem “If”.  Now I think both “If” and the “Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer” speak to doing what is right even if that is difficult to do.  

100 years later, in today’s climate of change, decisions are in front of us all the time and some have a difficult path and some have an easy path.

I think there are some excellent questions in this poem that a leader can contemplate in times of difficult decisions, and some great opportunities for self-reflection. 

While this poem is regarded by some as “keeping the stiff British upper lip”, I don’t see it as repressing emotion, but rather as a decision point in how you view reality — and the story you choose to tell about it.  It reminds me of a Cherokee Legend — The Wolves Within.

What are your thoughts on this poem — is it about repressing emotion and being stoic or is it about facing those 2 wolves and deciding which one to feed?


If, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.










Rudyard Kipling, 1898

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