I have some thoughts on my mind and want to share them here, but it’ll take some time before I can put everything on the table. So bear with me while I do that. I’ll try to let it all make sense in the end, even though it might not seem that way in the beginning. Here goes.
First, please read this article if you haven’t done so already. It has become a classic in certain circles, primarily those of self-defense advocates and practitioners, gun rights advocates and many more. Please note that I am not disparaging these groups. In many ways I’m a part of them. Nor am I critiquing the article, I understand the intent behind it and agree for the most part. Even more, I believe On Combat and On Killing should be required reading for everybody.
Second, there are all sorts of people in these groups. Some are men and women who have a certain mindset and belief system that values human life and thinks preserving it is important. Even if that means using violence. I get that. In essence, I agree with it (depending on certain conditions, which is a long article in and of itself.) and applaud them for it. I have nothing against those folks, on the contrary. If only there were more of them, I believe the world would be a better place.
Unfortunately, those groups also have a bunch of douchebags and assholes in their ranks, just like all other groups. People who use the belief system I just described as a punch line. Others do it to make themselves look tough/cool/smart/whatever. A final portion of them just doesn’t know any better and spouts nonsense out of ignorance. It’s those people I am talking about for the most part in this article. I’ll add a second group later.
Third, I’m generalizing with all this, I know. Here’s the thing though: I’ve consistently seen the behavior I’ll describe here below for years on end. So to me, it’s real. If your experience is different, then I’m happy you haven’t encountered the assholes I have.
Fourth, the sheep/sheepdog/wolves analogy works. It’s simple to understand and it gets the point across well enough. My only issue with it is that “sheep” inherently has a negative connotation. In most cultures that I know of, sheep are regarded as “dumb” animals. So comparing people to them isn’t really like giving them a compliment. Even though Lt. Col Grossman clearly states he doesn’t mean it in a negative way, it’s hard to see it as a positive term.
And that brings me to my point:
A lot of people look down on “sheep”.
The assholes I mentioned before do so for whatever reason makes sense to them. Perhaps they are motivated by a need to aggrandize their own ego. Perhaps they see themselves as sheepdogs just so they can look down on others. Or maybe it all comes from a need to dominate others. What bothers me the most though is when they use it as a means to justify their shitty behavior:
“Yeah I punched him in the face because he’s a wolf and I’m a sheepdog!”
All fine and dandy, but you’re not a sheepdog if you were provoking the guy in the first place…
Or they are always armed and make it a point to let people notice their weapons. Or steer the conversation to weapons and their right to use them at the drop of a hat. The narrative then often boils down to something like this:
“You can’t be too careful, right? If you’re not armed, how can you defend yourself? I’m not going down without a fight like one of those sheep!”
And more along those lines.
Do they have the right to claim the “title” of sheepdog? Of course.
Can they do so for a variety of reasons, including stroking their ego? Yup.
But in my not so humble opinion, then they also have to step up and put themselves on the line when it counts.
Unfortunately, that’s something I don’t see them doing. They’re all talk, but lack the will and guts to back it up. They want the goodies and cool points of being the kind of person who says “You shall not pass!” when the wolves come calling. But they don’t want to stand there in the front line. When the shit hits the fan, suddenly, they aren’t anywhere to be seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare this behavior to Stolen Valor, but it’s something similar. Just as I loathe the idiots who claim to be Navy Seals when they don’t even know what they’re talking about, I don’t have a lot of love for people who claim to be sheepdogs when they are unwilling to take up the role when it really counts.
They’re sheep who pretend to be something more.
They use that as an excuse or a justification to look down on the other sheep. I believe they should just be quiet. All the true sheepdogs I know, the soldiers, police officers and other first responders, those true warriors usually don’t like to talk about their heroism. It makes them uncomfortable. The wannabes should take their cue and just shut up. I don’t have high hopes that they will, but one can dream…
For the record: I don’t see myself as a sheepdog, even though others have told me I am one. Somebody even got upset with me because I refused to see myself that way. It’s a label I’m not comfortable with and I don’t use it to describe who I am. To each his own, but I’ll pass on this one. As an aside, an additional reason why I don’t want this label is because my first name means “the defender” or “the protector” in ancient Germanic. That’s more than enough of a burden already, thank you very much.
The other side of the coin
For the last twenty years, I’ve been teaching martial arts and self-defense to a lot of people. Because I don’t believe I own the “Ultimate Truth” ™ on those topics, I sought knowledge and experience wherever I could find it. Preferably with those more experienced than me. As a result, I’ve been in touch with numerous individuals who have lived interesting lives, to put it mildly: soldiers, cops, intelligence officers, bouncers, tough guys and more. Some of them are good people. Others are not so good people. A bunch of them are bad people who try to be good. I consider most of them friends. Over the years, we shared blood, sweat and tears. They were there for me when I was in need of help and I tried to be there for them as well. It’s safe to say they are not average Joes. They have a unique outlook on life. One that is borne of hardship and spilling their own blood. Most of them are sheepdogs, the way Grossman described in his article.
The conversations we have (especially after a few drinks) tend to go all sorts of places. Invariably, the stories are often hilarious, incredible, frightening, humbling, excessively violent and also beautiful. My own experiences often pale in comparison with theirs but I do have a couple that crack them up. One of them starts like this:
“So there I was, 18-years old and repeatedly axe kicking the head of this soldier who had both legs amputated. He asked for it and I didn’t want to be rude by not obliging.”
My friends get why I would have insulted that soldier by not trying to bash his skull in. The majority of other people do not, even when I explain the full context of that story. They look at me like I’m a freak. It’s so far out of the ordinary for them, they can’t fathom it and are usually disgusted. (Those very same people come running to me when they’re in the kind of trouble that involves violence, but I digress.) I quickly stopped sharing that type of story with others. Simply because there’s no point in telling it to people who really don’t want to hear that stuff. Multiply this by two decades and I no longer share large portions of my life or thoughts with people. They just don’t understand.
This can make you feel alienated from society, which in turn can make you resentful: if only the “sheep” knew what you know, they wouldn’t be so judgmental…
You might not hate on the sheep for the same reason as the wannabe sheepdogs I mentioned before, but in essence, you’re doing the same thing: looking down on them.
I went through that a long time ago and was fortunate to have the help of a few friends to see the error of my thought process. No matter how much it might hurt at times, there is no point in looking down on the people who were fortunate to not have violence in their lives. In other words, just because your life sucks and their doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you should look down on them.
It’s hard though.
The more blood and death you see, the harder it gets to not slap the shit out of a twenty-something who’s whining because he can’t afford the latest iPhone. But you should suck it up and see him for who he really is: somebody fortunate enough to not live through the worst parts of your life. It’s not his fault, he can’t help it because he doesn’t know. Just like you didn’t before you experienced that world.
If you give in to that resentment, you run the risk of alienating yourself even more and truly living isolated from society. When that happens, you are no longer a sheepdog. Perhaps you aren’t a wolf just yet, but you’re sure as hell no longer one of the good guys.
All this is illustrated very well in this scene from A Few Good Men. You can analyze this scene to death, there are so many reasons why it’s relevant. But in the context of this article, I’d like to point out that both Cruise (the sheep) and Nicholson (the sheepdog) think they are right and righteous. And they hate each other’s guts…