Sheep or Flock?

My father was an interesting man.  Most people would describe him as friendly and outgoing, because he knew everyone in the neighborhood and talked to them frequently.  His life was simple: Worked for the phone company, rode the subway there and back.  Came home at the same time, had dinner, walked the dogs, went to bed, started again the next day.   While he walked the dogs, he spent hours outside in our busy Brooklyn neighborhood, talking with the neighbors about anything and everything.

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with my Dad myself though, because that simply wasn’t the way it was.  He was old fashioned like that.  Child-rearing was my Mother’s role and his was to work and provide and so that is what he did and I stayed out of his way so he could relax when he wasn’t working.

Occasionally we would talk.  Unlike his chats with the neighbors, ours were usually awkward, but my rear view vision allows me to see that he was trying to connect with me, the best way he could.  When I was a teenager he would try on the “Dad” hat more often and make an attempt to dole out advice.  For example…

One day circa 1986 I emerged from my room wearing the then fashionable satin shorts.  If you are over 35 you’ll probably remember them:  Short with bold colors and white pinstripes.  Girls loved wearing em, and boys particularly loved that girls were wearing em; and so, naturally, my Dad didn’t like them.  He said “You know, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should too!  In fact, you should be different and unique so you shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing!”  It didn’t go smoothly of course because I was a teenager and despite my Dad’s ability to make small talk with everyone in the neighborhood, he wasn’t a very good communicator.  I didn’t respond well to his suggestion that I was a ‘follower’ and I wore the shorts anyway.

Not long thereafter, Dad wanted me to participate in a community event.  I didn’t want to.  He said:  “You know, everyone is going to be there!  You don’t want to be the odd one out do you?”   Again, I was unconvinced.

This became something of a pattern throughout the rest of our relationship, until he passed away in ’05.   Whenever I was doing something that he disagreed with, he would either remark on how I should be more unique, if I followed a social standard he didn’t like, or remark on how I wasn’t cool because I wasn’t following the crowd, if I refused a social standard he did like.

I saw through it then and I do now.  I love my Dad and although our relationship could have been better, it certainly could have been worse.  I appreciate who he was in my life and in hindsight I respect his odd way of expressing his opposition; especially because experience and observation has taught me just how common his thought process was.

We all do this don’t we?
When a large group of people are doing something that we agree with, we praise them and celebrate the “movement” and call it a great and wonderful thing.
When a large group of people are doing something that we don’t like, we call them “sheep” and accuse them of group-think and say they are mindless.

So if it suits us, it’s a movement.  If not, it’s a sheep stampede.

It’s the same mixed signals my Dad sent his teen aged daughter in his attempt to sway me by striking at my need to fit in, or my need for individuality.   But he didn’t speak to my need – he appealed to his need to have me conform to his opinion of social norms.

And that is how it goes.
If we log on to our favorite social network and everyone is doing something we like, we call it a powerful movement.  If it disagrees with our personal opinions,  we call the people who are participating a bunch of sheep.   But it really is an ironic term isn’t it?  Because as soon as the first person cries “sheep!” everyone else who disagrees with the viewpoint will echo the insinuation that sheep are mindless followers; but when a religious leader with whom we agree refers to his community as his “flock” we applaud.

Look, it all comes down to seeing beyond what we want the world to be and recognizing what it actually is.  It takes a deliberate, cognitive pause to accept that we actually are all individuals AND we live in an interlaced society; so sometimes we will behave in common ways, and sometimes we will not.  We may not all be ‘sheep’ but we might be stone-throwers.

Think first.  Really think.
Communication is so much more than just repeating words.  Try to connect and discuss, before you sling terms around that only temporarily gratify your opinions.  Who knows, maybe if we all strive to connect and communicate, it’ll be a movement J

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