We, like Sheep

Once upon a time I earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology, and ever since then I’ve been fascinated with the science of proving or disproving one hypothesis or another.  I continually ask, are my theories about thus and such, right or wrong?

Everybody likes to be right, but admitting you’re wrong is another matter altogether.  However, the integrity of science demands that when you’re wrong, you freely acknowledge it and explain why.  Being wrong is just as important to the advancement of knowledge as is being right.

It occurs to me that few woke folks will admit they’re wrong.  But sleepy saints are just as guilty of thinking they’re right about everything.

Admitting that we’re wrong about something is clearly an issue of humility and not with the integrity of the scientific method.  I wonder if in order for society to move forward, we need a massive infusion of humble leadership rather than throwing more and more money at our societal problems.

Is a leader who says, “I got that wrong,” and sacrificially takes measures to correct their mistakes, a more valued leader, for their humility?  Or do we prefer the leader who arrogantly plows through the will of those they represent, with their own interests for personal profit and aggrandizement?

“Am I right or am I wrong?”  This reminds me of an old blues song, but also of leaders and followers, generally; which reminds me of the metaphor of sheep and shepherds, accompanied by the well-known Psalm 23 poem by David, the Shepherd and would-be King.

I observed a Facebook post where a friend was insulted for being a dumb sheep for following a certain leader, not to the bully’s liking.  My friend defended himself with a few facts as his weapon.

My reaction to this post was readiness to fight the bully of sheep everywhere, and punch that particular bully in the face.  So much for right and wrong.

After quickly checking my fantasy-behavior, I formed a hypothesis about it not being the sheep’s fault for following the only reasonably protective shepherd they’ve had.  Instead, it’s the shepherd’s fault for leading his sheep astray.

Having had family history raising sheep, the sheep metaphors from Psalm 23 vividly instruct “we, like sheep…”.  Like most people who grew up in the church, I memorized the twenty-third Psalm at a young age.

Psalm 23 is an uncanny metaphor for people.  It’s a love poem from sheep to shepherd.  The comparisons between the behaviors and characteristics of sheep and people, shepherds and leaders, is remarkable.

The twenty-third Psalm is comforting.  Why?  Because it depicts a benevolent leader who’s got your back and will never see you hurt or in danger, without his or her support. 

It seems to me that sheep are widely disparaged for blindly following their leader, whose sole purpose is to guide, direct, coach, nurture, protect, teach, and incentivize those in their charge.  To say someone is just a dumb sheep is really telling them that they have an unworthy leader. 

Sheep are not dumb, nor are most people, but we are vulnerable creatures if not nurtured, protected, cared for and led by a loving shepherd or leader.  Maybe you’ll recognize some people you know in these sheep metaphors, from Psalm 23:

Sheep can’t raise themselves.  They need a shepherd/leader.

Sheep cannot lie down in green pastures unless they’re free of fear.  There is much to be afraid of when you have no defenses but to run.  A fearful sheep can literally run itself to death.

Sheep can literally be bugged to death with un-anointed heads.  Rest cannot come when insects are buzzing incessantly around your head.  Have you ever been “driven to distraction” by something bugging you?

Sheep are creatures of habit and if not led and managed by a kindly shepherd, will follow the same trail over and over until it’s a rut and the land is decimated.  Some of us resist change, even if it’s for the better.

On the other hand, sheep leave behind the most beneficial manure to the land, of any livestock.  They also eat all manner of weeds; so, with diligent shepherding they can renew the land on which they graze.

Rams are competitive.  They’ll butt their rivals to death, vying for top status unless a shepherd is present to put a stop to such shenanigans.

Sheep that are too fat or with bounteous wool can topple over onto their backs, called “casting,” and are unable to get up.  They will die unless rescued and shorn by their shepherd.

Most sheep resist the shearing process and the more contrary among them, receive wounds from kicking back, not knowing it’s for their safety and benefit.  You’d think they were being tortured to see a sheep being sheared.

There are always a few sheep, often ewes, that repeatedly wander away from the flock.  Such ewes teach their lambs this bad habit, putting themselves and their offspring into the dangerous position of being picked off by predators, just waiting for the opportunity.

Again and again, the attentive shepherd leaves the flock to bring these sheep back to the fold.  “We, like sheep, have gone astray, each unto his own way…”.

Realistically, we, like sheep, have to pass through the valley of adversity in order to reach the high tableland or mountain of summer delight.  However, sheep aren’t in fear of falling from the steep paths, and people aren’t afraid to make mistakes, if their shepherd and leader are within bleating distance to catch and correct them.

Sheep are visibly content, safe and loyal when the shepherd/leader is present and attentive.  An absent shepherd means unruly, unhealthy, discontented sheep that don’t thrive.

Experience teaches us that beneficial change sees its way through the moments of chaos and desperation, if you wait for it.  Let me ask this in conclusion, who’s your shepherd?  And, what kind of sheep are you?

(refer to- “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller)

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