ON SHEEP, WOLVES, AND SHEEPDOGS

By LTC(RET) Dave Grossman, RANGER, Ph.D.,author of “On Killing.”

Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so
because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy
things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that
may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always,
even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth
dying for? What is worth living for? – William J. Bennett – in a lecture to the
United States Naval Academy November 24, 1997

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me:
“Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive
creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the
murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate
is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans
are not inclined to hurt one another.

Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent
crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record
rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which
means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one
in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are
committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably
less than two million.

Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation:
We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still
remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people
who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme
provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me it is like the
pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow
into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue
shell. Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and
someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful.? For
now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.

“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves
feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there
who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil
men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget
that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in
denial.

“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to
protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

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

Let me expand on this old soldier’s excellent model of the sheep,
wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes
them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the
world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire
extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’
schools.

But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police
officer in their kid’s school. Our children are thousands of times more likely
to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the
sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone
coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the
path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the
wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is
that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep
dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished
and removed.
The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative
democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that
there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them
where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our
airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much
rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”

Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to
hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough
high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not
have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had
nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT
teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel
those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs
feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.

Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded
hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt
differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how
many times you heard the word hero?

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a
sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a
funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the
breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a
righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous
battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move
to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep
pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After
the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America
said, “Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes.” The sheepdogs, the warriors, said,
“Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I
could have made a difference.” When you are truly transformed into a
warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there.
You want to be able to make a difference.

There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but
he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able
to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the
population.
There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals
convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious,
predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast
majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: slumped
walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like
big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able
to protect itself.

Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be
genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most
people can choose which one they want to be, and I’m proud to say that more and more Americans
are choosing to become sheepdogs.

Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was
honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the
man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an
operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other
three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone
and uttered the words, “Let’s roll,” which authorities believe was a signal to
the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a
transformation occurred among the passengers – athletes, business
people and parents. — from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves,
ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.

There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible
evil of evil men. – Edmund Burke

Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of
police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real
sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves.
They didn’t have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be
whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.

If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay,
but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your
loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If
you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt
you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want
to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior’s path, then you must make a conscious
and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive
in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.

For example, many officers carry their weapons in church.? They are
well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt
holsters tucked into the small of their backs.? Anytime you go to some form of
religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer
in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your
place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.

I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the
break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other
cop replied, “I will never be caught without my gun in church.” I
asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at
a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally
deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen
people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day
if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do
was throw himself on the boy’s body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the
eye and said, “Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself
after that?”

Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer
was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and
would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for
“heads to roll” if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective,
or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids’
school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can
happen and that there must be safeguards against them.

Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often
their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog
quietly asks himself, “Do you have and idea how hard it would be to live with
yourself if your loved ones attacked and killed, and you had to stand there
helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?”

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically
destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is
counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and
horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth
when you are not physically prepared: you didn’t bring your gun, you didn’t
train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy.
Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you
are psychologically shattered by your fear helplessness and horror at
your moment of truth.

Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less, his superb post-9/11
book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to
terms with our current world situation: “…denial can be seductive, but it has an
insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it
isn’t so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more
unsettling.”

Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in
small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some
level.

And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of
his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.

If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you
step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that
the bad man will not come today. No one can be “on” 24/7, for a lifetime.
Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you
walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to
yourself…
“Baa.”

This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no
dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees,
a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on
the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the
other.
Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America
took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps
toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started
taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that
continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved
ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

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