Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thoughts on Sheep and Sheepdogs

The horrible events at Virginia Tech on Monday left many innocents dead. Students and professors started off their day as they would on any Monday, and fate led a madman into their midst. My heart goes out to the victims and their families and friends.

The first reports I heard left me with the impression of a gunman letting loose in a classroom full of people, and I could not understand how so many were killed. In a post 9-11 world, it is hard to imagine a group of people not fighting back against a single attacker.

As more information has been brought forward, it's obvious that the scenario was quite different, with many classrooms attacked one after another. There were acts of bravery and sacrifice, such as the actions of Professor Liviu Librescu, who gave his life to protect his students. There are others as well, and I join John of Castle Argghhh in implementing a Rule regarding discussion around these events. I will name and honor the memory of the victims, but not the shooter.

I couldn't help but react to the emerging stories by remembering LTC (ret.) Dave Grossman's essay "On Sheep, Sheepdogs, and Wolves", as did many others. The discussion at the Castle continues, and some have called into question the proper meaning of the term Sheep in this context.

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.

The term Sheep is not used here to be offensive, as some may take it. The point is that the bulk of the population goes on about their daily, productive, lives without spending much time thinking about the wolves around us. The consensus of virtually all of the Sheepdogs that I am happy to call friends is that this is a good thing.

As Grossman pointed out in his essay, it's not an on/off state, it's a continuum. The Sheep in the center of the herd don't even see the edges, and may not admit that the Wolves exist. The ones at the next layer may understand the danger but not be able or willing to act. The next layer contains Sheep with greater understanding of the Wolves of the world, and some ability and inclination to protect the Sheep farther in. And so on, until you reach the pure Sheepdogs - Police, Firemen, and the Military. Men and women who daily put their lives on the line to secure the peace and security.

As you progress outward, the Sheep characteristics are mixed at varying levels with the Sheepdog attributes, and I would like to think that each of us has the potential to become the Sheepdog in a situation where there are Wolves threatening to do harm. This happened at Virginia Tech, as evidenced by the actions of Professor Lebrescu, and others like Zach Petkewicz.

"I was completely scared out of my mind originally, just went into a cowering position, and then just realized you have got to do something." [emphasis added]

Sometimes one just has to Act, to become a Sheepdog and not simply submit to the Wolves. I pray that if the need were to arise, I too would summon the Sheepdog inside and take action.

Final note on this. While we remember those murdered on Monday, and decry the acts of a madman killing our 'children', a little perspective. We have thousands of troops overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan who are younger than many of those killed, who go outside the wire and into harm's way every single day. However you feel about the Global War on Terror, the Sheepdogs are out there doing their jobs every day. Many of them aren't old enough yet to drink. Some never will be.