The Original Think Magazine (Published since 1996)
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The Problem with Sheep

Quarry rocks have higher IQs than sheep. In any cavalcade of dumb things, sheep always lead the parade. Animal lovers argue about animal intelligence. Pigs, they say, are really intelligent.

the problem with sheepHorses, too. Dog lovers discuss the intelligence of various breeds - with their dog in the top group, of course. But nobody argues about the intelligence of sheep. Let's face it. There's dumb. There's dumber.

Then there are sheep. Sheep spend their days munching grass. Hour after hour, munching grass. It sounds pleasantly pastoral, but this constant munching creates problems.

Wandering from grass clump to grass clump, sheep chew away without looking up.

Focused only on the next green clump - and with severely limited vision to start with - they may not notice the rest of the herd hanging a left just when they've spotted a juicy morsel to the right - and another, and another, and so on. Then they're lost, wandering around in a daze, bleating. But still grazing.

Prompt rescue is necessary. Sheep can't digest all their grazing until they lie down. But sheep don't have sense enough to lie down, even when their aching, expanding girth signals impending doom. You have to make them lie down for their own good.

Then we have their inherent "follower" nature. Sheep life is one long game of follow-the-leader. The lead sheep heads over a cliff? No problem. The whole herd follows without a bleat - if, that is, it happens during a moment when they're paying attention instead of getting lost following a grass-clump trail.

Also, sheep are helpless against predators. If a wolf gets in the sheep pen, sheep don't fight back. They don't try to get away. They don't spread out. They huddle together, as if to give the wolf an easier, more cohesive target.

And if sheep fall into moving water, they drown. Their coats, heavy to begin with, absorb water rapidly, adding poundage by the second, and sheep can't swim. Here's where we have to give sheep a little credit. Sheep fear moving water and won't drink from a lake or stream unless the water is still. That's probably more instinct than common sense, but it's something.

All in all, sheep are pretty pitiful. So why do we insist on imitating them? Follow the crowd, even into disaster? Have to be told to do what's good for us? Allow predators to eat us for lunch because we won't fight back? Even sheep have sense enough not to barge into situations that will overwhelm them.

We imitate sheep because sheepness is a part of what we are, a part we have to overcome. Let me drop a big name here: In the Bible, Jesus says we're all like sheep and gives a rundown of what that means. It's not a pretty picture. We might want to jump to our defence, except he isn't insulting us, just pointing out a universal, life-limiting propensity we all need to overcome.

We overcome our sheeply tendencies by discovering the gifts and talents that make us unique, then stretching to maximize all that potential. We think rather than feel our way through life - something sheep could never do. We take responsibility for ourselves - another sheep impossibility. And we don't bleat all the time.

Recognising our sheepness problem can show us the way to solve it. If we choose to. Do we want to drift from one unnecessary difficulty to another, hoping somebody will rescue us from ourselves, or are we willing to do the heavy lifting required to live a life of purpose and meaning? One advantage we have over sheep is we get to choose.


Bette Dowdell was an IBM Systems Engineer, small business consultant and software company owner. She also studied and taught the Bible, including some years of successfully teaching serious theology to grade school children, not a job for sissies. Bette wrote How to be a Christian Without Being Annoying, a book about how the Bible describes Christianity. She creates Quick Takes on Life, a no-cost, weekly e-mail subscription. Read about the book at www.WithoutBeingAnnoying.com Watch a one-minute flash movie of some Quick Takes at http://takeabreakmovie.com

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