When I first heard somebody say the word “sheeple” in conversation, I thought it was coined on the spot by the young woman who said it. I found it mildly amusing and intuitively understood its definition.
From time to time, though, I heard the word used in reference to religious followers, political partisans and the social mainstream in general. I wondered who coined such a clever, biting term. Maybe a political pundit or a journalist came up with the word? I had to check it out.
There is a reference to the word “sheeple” used in the 1950 edition of the Emory University Quarterly magazine. The article was named “We The Sheeple” used in an obviously political sense. I noticed that all the uses of the word were less than complimentary. I figured that if the term was used against some sort of political or religious movement in which I was involved, I would want to seriously examine the accusation. After all, we humans are social creatures. If we find some sort of groupthink that we can either join or lead, we tend to settle in and begin to feel right at home with the idea, ideology or spiritual path.
The ways any of us can be manipulated into becoming sheeple in one way or another is by social pressure or perhaps by wanting others to think well of us. In some circles, sheeple can be kept in line by leaders misusing words. One of the most powerful accusations used by politicos and religious leaders is that of alleging that the targeted individual is being “negative”.
Mistaking negativity for disagreement is a vulnerable trap within our much ballyhoed culture of so-called positive thinking. People don’t like to be accused of being “negative”. Real negativity consists of harmful ideas or actions against oneself and others.
Dissent, criticism and skepticism are not calls for harm. Such thought and action are positive, active calls for people to wake up and to examine other points of view. Feminists were often accused by the mainstream as having negative attitudes. Certainly the feminists used public displays of dissent that made waves with conventional group-think of the day. But the overall aim was to debunk the fallacy and conformist thinking that a woman’s place was only in the kitchen. The ultimate goals of these so-called negative activists were greater opportunity and less dissatisfaction for everyone concerned.
Even to be a contrarian for the sake of being contrary isn’t necessarily negative. Perhaps a cynic is being negative, but a critic is looking for a positive end game. But it’s easier to angrily accuse somebody of being negative. Today, that action is an effective way of coercing someone to fall in line with some sort of group-think.
The political debates will be heating up even more in the months to come. Unbearingly simplistic as they’ve already been recently, the buzzwords and soundbytes will be even more clever. The aim, of course, is to get us to fall in line with a particular line of thinking or ideological direction. We will be in the midst of very sophisticated activity using advanced methods of persuasion to convert each of us into sheeple.
Even if you don’t label yourself as liberal or conservative, there is a herd of independents, too. You can be shorn of your critical thinking in the blink of an eye with just the right hot-button argument or accusatory talkshow host’s talking point.
I sometimes fall in line with a herd of sheeple on one aspect or another. Still, I do my best to examine beliefs, rigid thought, and conformity of one way or another. It’s often difficult to truthfully examine long held beliefs and wishful thinking. It’s easy to go along just to get along, too. What do we risk if we decide to jetison our favorite conceptual thoughts? Do we feel pangs of discomfort even contemplating such actions?
Perhaps stepping back from our membership as sheeple in one form or another will clarify our thoughts and lead to more positive actions to ourselves and others? That is, if we don’t try to become a shepherd over our own flock of sheeple in the process. Perhaps we’ll disown the sheep pen and be more independent like a goat? Maybe even step out of the herd and become more fully and discerning as a human?
The Blue Jay of Happiness only joins a flock when it’s time to migrate.