The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

It goes without saying that the world is in really bad way right now. As I write this, nations all around the globe are struggling to contain a global pandemic that has already claimed over 100,000 lives, infected more than 1.6 million people, and left millions more financially devastated. In addition to this, entire countries are locked down as shelter in place restrictions attempt to slow the spread of a virus that is overwhelming healthcare systems and has already significantly altered the course of human history.

Covid-19 is everywhere. It’s on our televisions and radios; in our newspapers and magazines. It’s on the tips of our tongues when we talk to our friends and family, and in the back of our minds with just about every decision we make.

Right now the world appears to be stuck in this morbid state of doom and gloom. We’re afraid. And we should be. We’re living through a fucking scary time with no clear ending in sight. We don’t know how long shelter in place restrictions will be needed, if our jobs are safe, or even when we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. But we do know that while each of us is trying their best to get through this pandemic, we’re collectively at risk of being overcome by the gravity of our situation if all we do is consume negativity.

So rather than talk directly about how Covid-19 has reshaped our lives, I want to talk about the relationship between the pandemic we’re living through and a long-misconstrued societal belief whose etymology is derived from wolves instead. 

About a year ago, I was visiting my Mum interstate. As we often do when I go home to see her, we were sitting around her kitchen drinking coffee and talking; catching up about all the little things that never seem to come up in conversation when we’re on the phone. I have no idea why, but for some reason our conversation on this particular day turned to the subject of masculinity; and in true Chris Nicholas fashion, my over confidence was on full display. As someone in his thirties who has experienced death, battles with mental health and masochistic behaviour, financial ruin, failed relationships, and family illness, I considered myself to be a man. I have taken a few big hits in life, and although I’ve been knocked down more times than I can count, I have always found a way to stand back up and face whatever life threw at me next.

But as Mum and I waxed philosophical about what it meant to be a man, she told me that she never really considered me to be a stereotypical alpha-male. The comment was supposed to be a compliment; and part of me took it that way. As a society, we often perceive an alpha character as a dominant individual with greater access to power, money, and respect. These people are often abrasive, intimidating, and sit at the top of a social status hierarchy.

When compared to these criteria, I wasn’t, am still am not an alpha-male. I like to keep fit, but am by no means the most powerful person I know. I’m prepared to fight for what I believe in, but I’ll never initiate conflict or be perceived as intimidating. And I have a couple of bucks in my back pocket, but I’m not exactly rolling around in piles of cash making frivolous investments without a care in the world. And yet, despite not meeting any of the criteria that society needed to consider me an alpha, Mum’s well-intentioned comment rankled me. Because if I wasn’t an alpha, then what was I?

So, I started researching what it truly meant to be an alpha.

The term alpha as society now knows it was first coined in during the 1940s by Rudolph Schenkel of the University of Basel in Switzerland as he studied a pack of grey wolves held captive in a zoo. During his study Schenkel observed as the wolves competed for status within their own sex, until over time, the pack established a clearly defined alpha pair, documenting his findings and sharing them with the world. Then almost thirty years later, the American scientist L. David Mech penned a book called The Wolf which built upon Schenkel’s findings and helped to popularise the concept of alpha and beta wolves within the pack.

Throughout their respective papers, both researchers noted pack dynamics that used competition to define rank. The duo used the phrase alpha to identify the wolves who used domineering, violence, and aggression to become the clear leader of a pack. The savage imagery that these papers presented was hugely appealing to popular culture, particularly in mediums such as film where an alpha could be defined as a win at all cost protagonist who would burn down an entire village just to serve his own selfish ends.

And so, thanks in part to these two studies (and a myriad of similar research papers), society began to use term alpha wolf as a term of endearment to define those members of our society that climbed the social, financial, or political hierarchy at any cost.  Thanks to stylised film and television, it became cool to be seen as a badass who didn’t give a shit, and who used animalistic dominance to achieve their goals. Because these characteristics were typically given to male roles within movies, the phrase was adapted, and the alpha wolf became the alpha male. He was the asshole you hated for his ruthlessness, but admired for his success.

Alpha Wolf

But it turns out that the studies used to define the hierarchy of man were flawed. The wolves in the two researcher’s studies weren’t in their natural environment while under observation. They were captives forced to coexist in a foreign climate that stunted their natural instinct. And so, operating in a high-stress situation, they turned on each other and used violence to determine their pack structure.

In the late 20th and early 21st century, researchers began to question the findings of Schenkel and Mech, tracking grey wolves in the wild to test their hypotheses. Until this point scientists had believed that independent and unrelated grey wolves formed packs each winter out of necessity. They thought that wolves lived in close proximity, and banded together during winter to increase their chances of survival, using dominance and violence to establish their pack’s structure.

But through this process of tracking the movements of packs, researchers learned that a pack isn’t a group of individuals drawn together by circumstance, it is a nuclear family of wolves that consists of two parents, and their children. The alpha of a pack is not the most violent, or aggressive. The alpha is simply a paternal figure who co-parents his offspring with his mate.

In his natural habitat, the alpha, like so many great father figures in our own species, treats his family with love, generosity and kindness. He’s notorious for playful roughhousing with his pups, and is even known to pay special attention to the upbringing of the runt of a litter. That doesn’t mean that the alpha is all warm and fuzzy though; wolves are still incredibly dangerous apex predators. And the alpha will ferociously protect his pack against a threat when he needs to. But, as renowned wolf researcher Richard McIntyre says:

The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf is a quiet confidence; quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that.

Which means that not only did researchers like Schenkel and Mech get it wrong when they assumed that being an alpha meant being domineering (a viewpoint that Mech later  recanted). But it also means that society has it wrong when we assume an alpha to be intimidating or powerful; or even that their purpose in life is to serve themselves. Those are the characteristics of an asshole. An alpha is calm, level headed, knows what is best for their pack, and isn’t afraid to put the need of others above their own. They show sensitivity and love to those they care for, and are willing to do violence only when necessary.

Perhaps if my mum were to compare me against these criteria, rather than the misguided version of an alpha popular culture has led us to believe in, her opinion about whether I am a stereotypical alpha-male might have been different.

You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do Covid-19…

And you’d be right for doing so. The truth is, the concept of being an alpha has as much to do with Covid-19 as you allow it to.

As I said at the top of this post, the world is a very scary place right now. We’re surrounded by a perpetual feeling of doom and gloom. We’re worried about our families, our livelihood, and our future. But through all this uncertainty, we as individuals have been afforded with the opportunity to do something great. And that greatness is to be calm, to lead by example, and to be who your loved ones need you to be during a difficult time.

The last thing this world needs right now is the version of an alpha that society has been misled to believe is true. We already have an overabundance of assholes who put their needs before everyone else’s even without the added stresses of a global pandemic. Instead, the world needs more true alphas; leaders within family and friendship units who recognise that we’re living in uncertain times, who understand what their pack needs, and who have the self-assuredness and confidence to support and nurture the people they care about.

Whether that support is making your partner a cup of tea, turning off the television to play with your kids, or just phoning to check in on your friend or relative who may be struggling, every little moment of kindness matters in a time like this.

Years from now future generations are going to learn about the Covid-19 pandemic in schools. They’re going to learn about the lives lost, countries locked down, and the stories of human compassion that kept us all together. When that time comes, imagine how rewarding it would be to tell them that during one of the defining moments of our generation, you had what it took to be a true alpha, and that you made a difference in the lives of those you cared about. That rather than being a domineering asshole who thought the world revolved around you, you showed kindness and generosity even when others around you may not have. That you kept people safe, made sure that they were loved, and played your small part in a global effort to overcome adversity.

I know that it may not seem like it right now, but eventually this pandemic will pass, and our lives will return to some semblance of normality. It’s just going to take some time. Until then, stay home, stay safe, support your loved ones, and be a wolf.

86 thoughts on “Alpha

  1. Julpha Jean says:

    Love reading this 😊😊😊

  2. It has been said, the virus is a great activator… a catalyst for human evolution… a Big Wake-Up call to balance oneself. 🙏🏻☯️🙏🏻

  3. Sometimes, were, just, too, hung up on becoming alpha males and females, we fight for limited resources(money, jobs, etc.) , because we’re, driven by the instincts of survival of the fittest, we fail to realize, that, sometimes, we may be, safer, better able to, survive, if we keep ourselves, low-key, and just, buck down, to take care of our own, businesses.

  4. The alpha character is not always male (both in wolf packs as in dogs packs) but you are right that they primarily see to the safety and comfort of their fellows.
    For dogs who mostly live far away from the wild,the human becomes the alpha,he or she takes care of his education,food,shelter and mental health.
    The alpha male ,basically a bragging idiot,is totally fictional. He wouldn’t survive for more than a day in the dark woods…

  5. Sheree says:

    Thank you for a very enjoyable read.

  6. You get a slow, dramatic clapping and a tip of the hat from me. Good post, sir!

  7. I often ask my students, especially those in middle age, how many good bosses they have encountered over their careers. Most of the time, people answer saying 1 or 2 good bosses; the rest are mediocre or just plain bad. This leads me to conclude the born leaders (you might call them influencers these days!), are few and far between. I’m now old and I look around me and find the world is full of so called leaders (Trump, Johnson, Putin, Erdogan) and I worry. These so called alpha males, or strong men, are nothing of the sort. They are greedy, mean, self-centred, cruel, nasty people. If we were wolves, would we want these men as our pack leaders? I don’t think so. Your well-written article makes me believe that we have to find a better way and perhaps we should learn a thing or two from wolves and other animals who, on the face of it, seem to be smarter than we are when it comes to choosing their leaders.

  8. Excellent read. Thank you

  9. Lia says:

    This was just wonderful though and through. I love that quote from Richard McIntyre:

    “The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf is a quiet confidence; quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that.”

    Yes, to redefine the alpha by these criteria is what’s important in today’s world. The best men I know are just as above.

    Thanks for sharing. Sending much love.

  10. I loved this and hats off to your Mum for understanding that “Alpha Male” isn’t necessarily a compliment! The best leaders are not those who rule by fear, demanding admiration and obedience. The best inspire trust and confidence, and engender a spirit of co-operation that enables others to be the best THEY can be. The alphas may have dominated for a long time – Weinstein, Trump, Putin and the others mentioned above – but even before Covid-19 the tide was already beginning to turn. Perhaps if one good thing comes out of this pandemic it will be a greater understanding of what true leadership is, and appreciation of those men AND WOMEN who quietly lead by example, while the so-called Alphas are left baying at the moon.

  11. Beautiful piece and quite insightful. Good job

  12. Lesley says:

    Fantastic! Alphas are loving, caring and kind – not assholes. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  13. Chris, I loved this. Well written. Beautifully constructed and clear. I’m glad you wrote it in the midst of our global struggles. It breaks my heart and angers me to hear about the rise of domestic violence at this fragile time in our history when we most need strong and compassionate leaders and heads of households to protect and love the most vulnerable among us. I am blessed to have a true alpha banding our home together as he always has. Thank you for writing this and illuminating that point to me.

    It gladdens my heart to know I am in good company writing about the positive in this crisis and encouraging others to be their best selves. If not now, when?

    Kudos and keep it up!

  14. Denny K says:

    Nice read. Thanks for sharing the historic context for the misguided model we have followed.

  15. ladycee says:

    I am so pleased to hear from you Chris because I recently felt led to pray for you and wondered how you were doing. I need wonder no more!
    Thank you for sharing your interesting research and thank you for writing this inspiring post. And may God continue to bless and keep you and your loved ones safe.

  16. LovingSummer says:

    I like the sound of your Mum. I want to be like that with my boys!

  17. karinsvad says:

    What an interesting read, and I could not agree more with your point of view.

  18. Loved this post. Thank you so much. Always good to read your posts. You definitely have a gift with words.

  19. Lilly White says:

    Well said, thank you .

  20. Motivista says:

    Interesting read. Thanks so much for sharing.

  21. I think that we do indeed need leaders now who understand that they are a part of society (the pack) and that they derive any authority they might have from the pack. I’m concerned that our current crop of world leaders with a number of clear exceptions are unprepared and ill-equipped to take on corporate power and to challenge unbridled and unthinking capitalism. If there is anything that we can do as individuals to change the course of history I’m not clear yet on what that could be. Capitalism has a weight. It’s a heavy presence on the planet and with its global reach has infected every corner of the planet with its insatiable thirst for resources and markets. Shedding that weight will be no easy task. Real alpha wolves (even in the shape of little Greta wolves) will be incredibly important as leaders in the process. If we are to build a liveable world, we will need strong leadership, there’s no doubt about that.

  22. In one small post you’ve managed to redefine true masculinity and give us hope during this pandemic. Thank you so much for this important piece of writing and I hope it circulates widely across the world. Stay well. Be safe.

  23. Wonderful as always, loved reading this Chris!
    Hope you’re doing OK x

  24. eurobrat says:

    And to take it a step further, I’ve found that the domineering assholes who act like the world revolves around them are usually working hard to cover up a deep insecurity. Men who act in an exaggerated macho way are often trying to compensate for what is really weakness. Cheers to all the true alphas out there–intelligent women prefer their company.

  25. Companion says:

    This was enlightening and informative for me.

  26. I loved this post, it was well researched and thoughtful. There are many men I know that are not your stereotypical alpha , they are sensitive, caring, rise up to the demands of family at home and work. The only thing standing between their accomplishments and them is this misconception. I plan to share this blog post with such alpha men :-). Keep up the great work. I wish you could find a way to let the entire world know this truth.

  27. 2ndhalfolife says:

    Absolutely fabulous post! hope you are safe and healthy. love xo

  28. Powerful, informative and thought-provoking.

  29. A great read. Thought provoking. Thank you

  30. tara caribou says:

    As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your insightful post. I was particularly struck by the description of the wolf pack. I have often thought that the “alpha” as people view them is (as you mentioned) simply an asshole, not truly what a real alpha is. I have observed how wild wolves do not use unnecessary violence but instead genuinely care for and provide for their pack, earning true respect and following. A true alpha is admirable. Again, excellent piece and I always look forward to reading you.

  31. This is truly wonderful. Thank You! ❤️

  32. swabby429 says:

    Authentic alphas have no need for boastfulness. This was a refreshing read.

  33. Loved reading this, and I totally agree societal expectations of who we should can be very limiting. I discuss societal expectations lightly in my blog here too: https://musingswithmo.com/2020/04/12/easter-revisited/

    I honestly hope that during this time we continue to challenge the status quo and work together because we can and we will get through this pandemic. Wishing everyone well and May we all continue to keep safe🙏🏾

  34. Promod Puri says:

    What a great message that can be applied to leaders of all nations down to the individual level in families and communities we live in. Alpha man, alpha woman, everybody can participate in the concept you have beautifully expressed. Enjoyed the writing.

  35. K McVere LLC says:

    Your post is an example of what it means to be Alpha. Very comforting. Thank you.

  36. Well said! Although I’ve never had the chance to observe wolves, I did notice the same principle in the hierarchies of chickens that I raised, and again the point about alphas holds true. It’s usually the beta who is most likely to use violence to maintain their position, because that position isn’t as sure and so they react from fear of losing what they have. Alphas need to be calm and competent to keep their position. Right now, we need more leaders who can behave as true alphas rather than the outdated stereotype of them.

  37. Those are some good thoughts. I’ve long made fun of guys who constantly proclaim how “alpha” they are. People who say that are usually abrasive and unpleasant people. From my perspective, anyway. Insecure as well. One of the many things in life that if you brag about being it, you prolly ain’t it.

  38. Wow! Great post. I seriously think this misunderstanding is very destructive and very widespread. Nature as a whole is much more about collaboration and cooperation than about competition. Of course, there are predator/prey conflicts that are life or death. And, such conflicts make riveting and dramatic stories. Trees communicating through their roots or the ways insects and plants collaborate in complex networks or — for that matter — the complex interrelationships humans have that allow; e.g., scientific cooperation to work on COVID19 across the globe — fascinating to me, but not attention-grabbing the way a sword fight is. Anyway…thanks.

  39. vnée says:

    I like your writing style.
    Loved reading this.

  40. Comfort says:

    This is amazing. Thank you🤗

  41. beatingthebounds says:

    Very thought provoking! Especially in the light of news footage yesterday of heavily armed protestors taking to the streets and demanding an end to precautionary measures.

  42. Bryntin says:

    Hello, I’m not commenting on your post specifically, just letting you know I landed here and have featured your blog on my completely random and latest BLT (Blog Leap Tour). You may see a pingback link if you want to see where else it went.
    Sorry to intrude, however I will be back as I enjoyed your post and the aim of the tour is to find blogs to enjoy that I didn’t know before. Hopefully some of my readers will agree and do the same!

  43. KJ Smith says:

    “every little moment of kindness matters in a time like this” – Yes! Never underestimate the power of kindness – especially in times like these!

  44. terismyth says:

    Great description of the times we are currently living in.

    It’s hard to fathom that so many people are losing their lives and we can’t be with our friends and family.

    I’m glad you have had time with your mom. My boys call about once a week and reach out to us when they need something. Luckily, they both live close by and can be here withing 10 minutes.

    Don’t worry about the alpha thing. You are beautiful just as you are.

  45. Anand Bose says:

    I love the way you left a totemic imprint Anand Bose from Kerala

  46. Thank you for putting words to medium about this concept. I’m proud of the quiet calm leaders in my pack. My father, my partner and even my son, Andrew, who is no longer with us but was so much a true leader that even after his death we look to his way of protecting us, guiding us and encouraging us during these very unsettling and confusing times.

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