An idea that I’ve been trying to drill into the minds of my friends and acquaintances is what Seth Godin calls ‘sheepwalking‘.
“The outcome of hiring people who have been raised to be obedient and giving them a braindead job and enough fear to keep them in line.”
It’s not so much that this term and its meaning rings so true, it’s that sheepwalking is an evolutionary survival trait, and is so ingrained in our systems through social indoctrination and by our parents that it is a rare person who can break free from these bonds and actually think for themselves.
Our natural instincts to ‘sheepwalk’ come from a fear of the unknown and sticking to simple survival routines to stay alive.
People follow instructions because they are promised success if they do so. They follow instructions because the cost of failure is usually too high to be acceptable.
As children, the cost of failure is disapproval from our parents. Our parents literally emotionally blackmail us to conform to our outdated and useless educational system.
Drop out of college and let your parents down? Oh how could you…
As we grow up, the cost of failure gets more and more severe. Not listening to your scuba instructor could mean the difference between life and death, drowning and safety.
Not going to college means that you would never get a good job, and would never be able to survive in the real world.
Religion is the greatest proponent of sheepwalking. Instead of discovering and understanding religion by themselves, people are taught to blindly believe what they are told, lest they wish to go to hell (very small carrot, very big stick – overkill, I tell you).
As the cost of failure rises (eternal damnation), the promised rewards of success go up as well (eternal salvation).
Is the alternative – independent thought, creativity, proactive decisions – ‘bad’? Do they harm society? Do they harm the economy? Do they hurt people?
Reasons behind sheepwalking
Sheepwalking is mind control – using fear to keep people in line and promising them rewards in order to get them to do your bidding. The worst proponents of this are our parents – the carrot and stick approach is an easy and effective solution to control children and get them to do your bidding.
School is an extension of this system – it is as if we are being programmed to behave a certain way in society by being fed the same information and propaganda as everyone else. Our education system does not produce mass literacy – all it does is help convert the masses into sheep.
And when we grow up, institutions do the same to us. Companies hiring employees look for hard-working, academically-sound individuals – in other words, the best sheep.
As a society we shun change – in Pakistan entrepreneurship is something you do after you retire, when you are no longer useful to the ‘system’ as a member of the workforce.
The real danger of sheepwalking
The worst aspect of sheepwalking is the peer pressure – hang out with a bunch of sheep and all they will tell you to do is to follow what they are doing too.
Being a sheep is far easier than being a real person. As long as you follow the ‘system’, you’ll be safe and sound.
Makes life simple, is easy to understand (clear cut instructions, no unknowns), comes heavily recommended by other brainwashed sheep AND protects you from failure. If this was a product, it would be impossible not to sell it.
What to do about sheepwalking
As Seth says:
“Step one is to give the problem a name….”
Done. I used to call people corporate slaves, but sheep and sheepwalking sounds much better.
“Step two is for anyone who sees themself in this mirror to realize that you can always stop. You can always claim the career you deserve merely by refusing to walk down the same path as everyone else just because everyone else is already doing it.”
Much easier to say than do it. Human instinct shies away from risk and failure – taking ON the risk of failure will mean that we must first educate people about the rewards of not being a sheep, and then to show that there is NO failure if you are not a sheep.
“The biggest step, though, comes from anyone who teaches or hires. And that’s to embrace non-sheep behavior, to reward it and cherish it.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself. Our teachers and our institutions are the ones that are responsible for indoctrinating us and maintaining this atmosphere of fear. They are the ones who would be best placed to change the system.
But it starts with each and every single person. We have to realise that even the bravest of us are susceptible to act like sheep from time to time.
And for the sheep amongst us, they need the support of those who have already broken through.
Tell me something – are you a sheep?
What are you going to do about it today?