I found a painting by Jeff Leedy a few years ago in an art gallery in Sausalito titled "Counsel Approaching the Bench," with two shark fins cutting through the courtroom carpet toward the judge’s bench. (I encourage readers to follow the link above and purchase the print.)
This morning a client told me I was a sheep dog, not a shark. My response was a bewildered, "huh?" The client explained that it was an Army term.
So I Googled the term and found the following at The World Can’t Wait:
Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident. We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
Then there are the wolves and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy. Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
Then there are sheepdogs and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf. If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the unchartered path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
We know that the sheep live in denial. That is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog that intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours. Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports, in camouflage fatigues, holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, "baa." Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog. . .
Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, "Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes." The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, "Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference." You want to be able to make a difference. There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage, only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that would destroy 98 percent of the population.
This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between.
Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. Its okay to be a sheep, but do not kick the sheep dog. Indeed, the may just run a little harder, strive to protect a little better and be fully prepared to pay an ultimate price in battle and spirit with the sheep moving from "baa" to "thanks".
We do not call for gifts or freedoms beyond our lot. We just need a small pat on the head, a smile and a thank you to fill the emotional tank which is drained, protecting the sheep. And when our number is called by "The Almighty", and day retreats into night, a small prayer before the heavens just may be in order to say thanks for letting you continue to be a sheep. And be grateful for the thousands – – millions – – of American sheepdogs that permit you the freedom to express even bad ideas.
I don’t think I would qualify as a sheep dog in the same sense that soldiers, cops and firemen do. However, I do spend a lot of time confronting bad stuff, and I do occasionally bark at folks I am trying to protect.
So thanks, my military friend, for honoring me with the title of "sheep dog."
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.