Editor’s NOTE: Originally posted at The Graveyard Shift as a contributing guest of Lee Lofland.
I was recently asked to speak at a book reading for the local library to discuss my latest work on cop culture, “A Darker Shade of Blue; From Public Servant to Professional Deviant.”
Unsure of what was expected, I looked for key sections or excerpts that might appeal to the civilian public. One of the selections discussed why cops fail to fit-in with the general civilian population.
I described the enticement of a fringe lifestyle, and the intoxicating draw of society’s margins. Their blank stares quickened my heartbeat and signaled that this first attempt by our community library to feature local authors was going south quickly.
Retooling the chronology of the presentation, I did as any experienced public speaker and supervisor of public servants would do. I lifted the microphone just under my mouth, lowered my voice and howled, “I’m a Sheepdog!”
Since that too did not go well, I launched into an explanation of the significance for a common cop term, “Don’t be sheep.” I’d like to share the same with you, sans the howling.
The police tradition is steeped in symbolism and imagery helping solidify officer ideology and public comprehension. Cops use the term “Sheepdog” to describe their position and role in society. It goes something like this;
The majority of our population is good, honest people who would never intentionally harm another without provocation. They usually flock together and travel in groups to create unique cliques, cultures and societies. Sheep are not genetically predisposed for violence, but inherently desire social clustering.
Sheep desire belonging that involves homogeneity, or a sense of similarity. People tend to draw to those they share things in common. Band members are a unique clique in high school, distance runners are a special culture of athletes, and the free society we enjoy in America allows us to participate in activities such as music and athletics.
Humanity has survived thanks to the innate desire of individuals for banding together. Clustering creates cultures contributing to the proliferation of our species. Though early humans divided as some preferred hunting, while others chose the path of gathering, it was the bond of similarity allowing both cliques to succeed.
People are good, and enjoy the pleasant company of respectfully interacting with others.
The wolves in our society represent the psychopathic victimizers, openly preying upon the peace-seeking sheep. They hunt, stalk and attack because it is their delight and pre-disposition to deliver chaos despite the effect on the larger community of sheep.
Operating in either small packs or as singularly motivated individuals, the wolf has no concern for the well-being or life’s enjoyment shared by others. They do not survive by co-existing within the flock, nor do they respect the social mores, traditions, or values of the flock.
They exist to unsettle, frighten, injure, and kill the sheep. The sheep is defenseless against the direct motivated attack of the wolf. Yet the sheep never lose their ability to combine a collective presence for the overarching benefit of the whole. Even in times of senseless violence.
The sheepdog is a social creature. They are also naturally inclined towards violent attack if provoked. The sheepdog loyally protects the herd, but does not live amongst them. There maintains a separation between the herd and the dog. Sheep are easily disconcerted by the sheepdog’s presence, yet they understand the dog’s presence will not cause harm.
Remaining in the fringe, the sheepdog is poised to respond to the threat or attack by the wolf. When the lone or pack wolves arrive, the sheep cling to each other with an assurance the sheepdog will arrive to save them.
Appearing from the gap, the sheepdog, a usually docile character, becomes aggressive and committed to the safety of the flock. The sheepdog will fight, injure, kill and even sacrifice its own life for the safety of the flock. Even to save just one sheep.
Thwarting the violent assault from a motivated offender, the sheepdog remains unwelcomed and removes itself from the society of the herd. Though selflessly interjected into the fray of violence, there is no expectation of reward, acceptance or inclusion.
Personal sacrifice, hunting the hunters, and maintaining social harmony are the sheepdog’s satisfiers. Exclusion, solitude and misunderstanding are the sheepdog’s sacrifices. The fringe is where the sheepdog remains without even a howl; for that is their duty.
Don’t Be Sheep
If you hear, say or use the term, “Don’t be sheep,” then you know it does not refer to wearing a wool sweater. This means the warrior mindset requires an objective separation from the collective harmony of society to see the coming threats. This means you must always be prepared to fight the wolf no matter how, when or where it appears. This means even after you’ve laid the wolf or yourself down in the line of duty, the fringe is where you’ll return.
Had my presentation occurred prior to the Boston Marathon bombing, I believe the audience would have remained perplexed. That night, that event and that explanation prompted some to applaud, while the others; you guessed it. Howled!!