As the young shepherd lay asleep in the sun, his flock grazed peacefully on the lush slopes of the valley, nibbling on clover, alfalfa, and fescue. Their round bodies dotted the mountainside like so many clouds, merging and parting like the real things.
Without warning, two young wolves burst out of the forest and loped towards the flock. Sheep started bleating in panic and colliding in their panic to escape. The wolves drove right to its center, hoping to scatter it so they could pick off one or two stragglers who got caught in the open, but when the sheep parted, the hunters stopped dead. Waiting for them in the space they’d cleared was a beast of a dog. It’s white shaggy coat blended in with the sheep and so it had been guarding the herd from the inside.
The sheepdog rose to its feet and stared at the wolves. Though it was big, it was still only a dog, and these wolves were wild and dangerous. Muzzles wrinkled back in growls, the three sized each other up. Two to one was not good odds, but the sheepdog did not back away. The wolves, realizing their advantage, stepped forward, heads held low to the ground, long yellow teeth bared. Still the sheepdog did not move but only raised its hackles.
The wolves moved to the sides, and the dog began to panic, but it smelled the scared sheep and the sleeping boy and knew if it ran, they would all be in danger. The dog’s love of its charges kept it rooted, even as the wolves closed in. The dog knew it had no choice but to stand its ground. This is what it was meant to do: protect the weak from those who would prey on them, guide the flock, make sure everyone came home. In its dog brain, the sheepdog was ashamed of its vicious cousins who would hunt and kill the defenseless sheep.
The dog barked, a noise like a thunderclap, and the wolves hesitated. This pathetic trained pet was acting as if it could actually win this fight. It was not behaving like a creature about to get ripped apart and eaten. Instead, it was standing confidently, its tail upright and alert. It gave off all the smells and signals of an alpha, even in its role as servant to these soft creatures.
The wolves stood upright and relaxed. They had come looking for an easy meal. Instead, they had found this dog that behaved like a wolf, but used its power in service of sheep. They could not understand why something so strong would help things so weak, and this confusion blunted their hunger and aggression. They covered their teeth, smoothed their fur back, and lifted their heads. Giving the dog one last look, they turned and trotted into the woods.
The dog watched them go and when it was sure they were gone, it collected the scattered sheep so they could enjoy the remaining daylight.
A sheep is someone who does what is expected of them. They just want to get by, to enjoy their lives, eat good food, have good times. Perhaps they aspire to other things, but for now, they lack the determination or means to buck the status quo. When they are threatened, they rely on the system to take care of them. They work hard, follow instructions, and produce a lot, but ultimately, their fate is in someone else’s hands.
A wolf is someone who has taken their fate into their own hands. They don’t play by the rules because the rules are meant to control and limit people. The wolf takes advantage of those who blindly follow directions, who live with the illusion that they will be okay if they just do what they are told. The wolf sees sheep all around and laughs because he can take whatever, whenever. Might makes right.
A sheepdog is like a wolf, except that the dog is driven by duty. Instead of limiting him, duty empowers him: duty to family, country, friends, religion, or some system of values. This duty gives the dog the strength and presence to stand its ground in the face of dangers greater that it. These people follow the rules, but they don’t rely on them. They have learned to love and accept the sheep instead of seeing them as patsy’s to be taken advantage of. For the most part, they let others live their lives, but when someone must step forward to lead or protect, the sheepdog has decided that it will shoulder that burden. These people ask nothing and give all they can afford to give, knowing that their example will inspire other sheep to become sheepdogs, too.
Of these three, being the sheepdog is the most difficult. They must work hard to cultivate their independence of thought and action and learn the skills necessary to lead, while at the same time staying connected to their purpose and never losing respect for the sheep. The metaphor breaks down because sheep cannot really become dogs, but people can move from one to the other.
Warrior Spirit is about claiming the power of the wolf while cultivating the duty and purpose of the sheepdog.
Which are you? Sheep, wolf, or sheepdog?
Photo credit: Don LeBold on Flickr