I was having an email conversation with a friend of mine about this essay, “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs” by Dave Grossman, who wrote the incredible book, “On Killing.”
The gist of the essay can be summed up as such:
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
It was, in my opinion, an interesting read. It makes a lot of sense, until you start pushing the metaphor until it breaks, as I am wont to do. It got me thinking about whether any of these types is capable of change. If so, were they really the first kind to begin with?
For example, a sheep is genetically different than a wolf. Obviously, right? But could a sheep, if thrust into the right set of circumstances, become a wolf or a sheepdog? If so, was the sheep ever a sheep to begin with?
I know admittedly little about the heights of violence possible when a person is backed into a corner (thank God) but I kind of feel like the potential for violence is possible in everyone, particularly in instances of self defense. Or in the defense of one’s children (which is, I would argue, by virtue of the parent/child bond, an extension of the parents’ selves).
So, this is where I push the metaphor until it breaks. In nature, obviously, the line between a sheep and a wolf is extremely clear. Wolves never act like sheep, sheep never act like wolves, and the sheepdog is a domesticated version bred for a specific purpose.
In the metaphor, however, I have to wonder whether the lines are that hard and fast. My friend, during the course of our conversation, mentioned that the line between a wolf and a sheepdog isn’t a bright one. Sometimes, a person with wolf-like tendencies will put him/herself in the position of being a sheepdog so as to stay out of prison. In that case, the line between the two is extremely dim.
Still, I would say I fall squarely in the sheep camp. I’m a stay at home mother, I’m a productive member of society, I seek peace whenever and wherever possible. Sheep, sheep, sheep.
And yet, I feel like I would easily throw down if anyone ever threatened myself or my kids (I don’t include Wes here because he can handle himself). Any time I see a dog growl at my kids, or think about how I would handle things if I was assaulted, I imagine some decidedly non-sheeplike behavior. I mean, come on. I wrote espionage fiction. I’ve written enough fight scenes at this point I’m starting to run out of creative ways to say “punched in the face.” I’ve always been on the aggressive side for a sheep (and I say aggressive meaning, ‘Don’t mess with me.’ I’m not a violent person).
My question then is this: Is there a sheepdog in every sheep, or are sheep capable of violence only in the service of self defense? Or, am I not a sheep at all but, rather, a very maternal, lazy sheepdog?
What about you? Sheep, sheepdog, or wolf?