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Shepherding Sheep

Sheep. So many sheep as I travelled through Ireland last month with friends. People spray painted them in various colours, designs, and bodily locations to denote ownership. Watching sheep wander all over the countryside got me thinking: I saw lots of sheep but where were the shepherds?

Sheep Culture

Sheep in popular culture represent the herd mentality, a trait with which no one wants to be associated. In Western culture, people want to be tall poppies. Of course, if everyone is a tall poppy, how does anyone stand out?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My observation of sheep? They relaxed when they felt like it (apparently they love to lie on the roads in the evening because the asphalt is still warm from the sun) and there was lots of “ovine mixing” happening. I could tell because of the spray paint. Now isn’t that an example of nature teaching humans!

Being a sheep looked pretty good to me.


Farmers use flocks of sheep as giant lawn mowers. They eat everything in their path, unlike horses who supposedly are quite fussy about their food choices.

There’s three-way reciprocity inherent in the relationship. The land provides nourishment for the sheep. Sheep get roaming rights for munching. Humans get munching rights by allocating land along with time savings by not having to mow land.

Tall Poppies

What about those tall poppies? You know the ones – they flower during the spring and summer months.

Poppies provide the basis for morphine and codeine, you use them in baked goods, and they signify remembrance, as practised each November for Remembrance Day. Humans value poppies in so many ways.

Tall poppies provide visual contrast to the surrounding landscape. They have multiple functional uses, and their showiness grabs your attention.

Leaders perform the same role. A great leader stands out and has multi-faceted resources others can tap into.

I don’t mean that leaders need to be flashy like a tall poppy but they need to stand out so others can see them. They need to represent something the herd wants, whether it’s sustenance in the form of guidance or something greater, like holding a vision for the flock to embrace.

Society needs tall poppies. The best leaders – shepherds – are the ones that keep the flock together, that keep people connected to themselves, each other, and to the shepherd too.

Stuck Sheep

Towards the trip’s end, the group hiked on a small heather-dotted island. While exploring an inlet, we saw an ewe and her lamb stuck on a ledge. After searching for food, they couldn’t find their way out.

I considered these stuck sheep in relation to human experience. Like these sheep, humans get stuck at times too, stuck in a perspective on a topic that they can’t shake.

Stuck on that ledge, the sheep did, in fact, have choices.

They could stay put, climb up, head toward the water, move backwards or forwards. After all, they got themselves into that spot so clearly there was at least one way out!

Humans find their way out when they become willing to see things from different perspectives.

No Shepherds

As I said earlier, I didn’t see any shepherds in Ireland. Just mixed-up sheep, spray-painted in the colours of the rainbow.

Maybe the shepherds come out at night to bring in the sheep, maybe not.

I realized sheep don’t always need shepherds. Sometimes it’s enough to enjoy the comfort of the herd.

For more tips on this topic, click here.

Sheep Photo by Michelle Montemurro, Poppies Photo by Bart Ros on Unsplash,

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