Monday, September 13, 2004

Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs

Interesting, but which are you?


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 thingsthat 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 - ina 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 isconsiderably less than two million. Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: Wemay well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is stillremarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people whoare 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 foryour 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 officerin 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 sheepdog 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 thereare wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn't tell them where togo, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports incamouflage 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 onthe door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differentlyabout their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember howmany 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 inAmerica 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 ofthe 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 onFlight 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, businesspeople and parents. -- from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought thewolves, 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 whyhe 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 itwould 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 youare 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 smallprint, 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 hislife, 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, andyou walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this toyourself..."Baa."

This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. Itis 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.-----

Good words and remember...which one are you? I am a sheep dog.


Blogger Kat said...

Sheep that moved up the ladder...own a gun. It is unlocked and on the cabinet when I am home. three boxes of ammo (non-practice rounds) and two boxes of practice rounds left over from last outing to the range.

I don't carry that gun with me everywhere. I think you just changed my mind.

2:26 PM  
Blogger redleg said...

LTC Grossman is a good man, he has changed my mind on a lot of things

And concealed carry permits are a good thing

7:36 AM  
Blogger ALa said...

Damn rock. I used to go to the range in my early 20's and shoot a 9mm Beretta (and skeet shooting). Now that I have kids I am scared to death of guns and actually start sweating (panic attack?) if I see one....This isn't exactly a 'gun' area -and I guess I agree with gun enthusiasts that it would be better if my boys were familiar with them -but it's really scary to mistake...

2:54 PM  
Blogger BMG Mike said...


Your son is going to get exposed to guns in a situation that is not under your control . . . someday. His response then will depend on what he learns in situations that you set up and control . . . today.

Well, not *really* today! He's not quite old enough yet. And you will be the only one who can judge when he's really old enough. Just don't get too protective, or that someday will happen before your training can influence it.

My first encounter with a handgun took place when I was about 6 years old. My Dad was CO of an MP company after the war - the second one. He left his service revolver and ammo on the top of his dresser. I climbed up and handled the gun - noting how the half-moon clips went into the cyllinder. I was smart enough not to close and latch the cyllinder, because I didn't know how to open it. I put things back like they were, and no one was the wiser. I was completely untrained, and I was lucky.

I would not bet my kids would be so smart - or lucky, so I took them to the range when they were about 6 or 7. It took the curiosity factor away; they never developed either an interest in or an aversion to guns. They can safely handle a variety of guns; they choose not to.

It really isn't one mistake that makes a gun tragedy. It usually is the culmination of a series of mistakes. The safety rules are layered so that in most cases one rule violation leads to embarrassment, not to tragedy.

A parent's job is to expand horizons for their kids, not to unduly limit them. It is tough duty, because it's a dangerous world we live in. We have to try to teach good judgement and pray for God's protection lest they not exercise it.

Mike - a sheep dog in training

11:04 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

My father is a retired police officer. For as long as I can remember, he would come home and hang his gun belt on the chair, pistol included.

My father taught all of us that we should not touch the gun unless he told us to. He taught us, when we were old enough, to carry the gun. He taught us help him clean the gun. He taught us to respect the gun and never play with it. He took us to the range and we could see what would happen when a gun was fired. he told us seriously that we could be killed or hurt someone if we ever played with the gun.

Through this, we never played with the gun and we learned that, even if it was sitting on the table we should not touch it unless our Dad said so. Not to mention that he would beat our asses if we did so and he found out.

Teach children to respect guns and don't let them learn about them from TV or another kid.

3:37 PM  
Blogger redleg said...


amen. I will teach my children the same way.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Johnny said...

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1:47 AM  
Blogger Gef said...

Thanks for that, it's great to see a slightly different persepective on the topic.
BTW have you seen my new pup from Darksky Alaskan Malamutes? He's really a great pup.
Have a great day


9:34 AM  
Blogger Gef said...

Hey that is way cool! Thanks for the insight
Sean Cody

9:40 PM  

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