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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

On Sheepdogs

**Nothing contained herein constitutes advice**

Not everything with fangs is harmful

From 1996 to 2007, I served in the United States (U.S.) Marine Corps in the field of military police (MP). During that time, I naïvely considered myself to be a sheepdog—a protector of the flock, as set forth by author Dave Grossman in his bookOn Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.

Essentially, the average law-abiding citizen is categorized as a sheep, though not meant as a pejorative term. Wolves are those people who are said to prey on the sheep (i.e., terrorists, violent criminals, etc.).

Sheepdogs (i.e., police officers, military members, and so on and so forth) have fangs and to the sheep may appear ferocious like wolves. However, sheepdogs are bound to safeguard the sheep.

Highlighting Grossman’s concept of the sheepdog, one source states:

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 hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

I didn’t enter the Corps, because of a “deep love” for U.S. citizens. Likewise, I wasn’t one of the many military veterans who watched towers fall on 9/11 and who developed an urge for retribution.

I don’t shy from discussion about having merely swapped one team for another when joining the Marines, trading my in-group preference from a street team to a military team. In all honesty, my knucklehead friends who were in gangs may be perceived by sheep as representing wolves.

They certainly had fangs and a proclivity towards violent behavior. In spite of this, there were strict rules to which the carnales were bound.

Randomly attacking sheep was strictly prohibited, because it was bad for business when sheepdogs were called to the area in which my friends operated their criminal enterprise. On the other hand, many Marines with whom I served didn’t show as much restraint regarding their behavior.

We may have been designated as “America’s 911 force;” however, humans are fallible creatures and self-righteous concepts such as that relating to sheepdogs isn’t entirely accurate or helpful. I know of Jarheads who committed far worse crimes than did my friends from back on the blocc.

Moreover, I knew hypocritical MPs that not only resembled wolves; some of them embodied the allegory of a predator without distinction from the criminals we were tasked with policing. Even I was discharged from the Corps after a series of punitive procedures, so I may appear as a snarling beast of prey to some sheep.

However, I’m no threat to anyone who isn’t intent on harming me.

In 2020, I listened to an interview with Grossman, which was conducted by former Navy SEAL Andy Stumpf, during which Stumpf challenged Grossman’s sheepdog allegory. During the discussion, Grossman stated (minute 21:27):

The sheepdog dynamic is accepting responsibility to protect yourself and your loved ones. And I think if you carry a gun, if you’ve made that decision to do that, then you’re—without a doubt—in that sheepdog world.

To test this hypothesis, one can examine the cases of Darren Wilson, George Zimmerman, Nicholas Reardon, Kyle Rittenhouse, Daniel Perry, or others who have apparently carried guns and allegedly used deadly force. From a public perspective, are these people viewed as sheepdogs or wolves?

Without clicking on the links of the aforementioned individuals, what do you know about their cases, dear reader? The subtle, though unexpressed, message within the U.S. seems apparent—if you are perceived as a wolf, you are a wolf—even if you aren’t actually a predator.

While I used to appreciate Grossman’s idealistic conception of good, evil, and neutrality when I served in the military, I now reject his proposed hypothesis. This is largely because the irrational beliefs of the flock may pollute their ability to accurately discern friend from foe, hero from villain.

I’m not angry about this proposition. I don’t disturb myself about what I think should, must, or ought to be. Rather than violating the is-ought problemdemanding what I think ought to be when faced with what merely is—I unconditionally accept reality.

Due to my perspective shift concerning sheepdogs, I no longer subscribe to the dictum I valued as an MP—protection of self and others. When in service, Marine Corps order 5500.6F was what I what I obeyed:

When deadly force reasonably appears necessary to protect MPs/police officers and security personnel or others who are reasonably believed to be in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.

For well over a decade, my virtuous role was to be someone with fangs and who maintained the capacity to inflict violence on those who would harm others. Therefore, when exiting the Corps, I kept up the tradition of helpful service to others.

Anecdotes which contributed to viewpoint change

Scenario 1 –

I idealistically believed that it was my duty to defend the sheep from wolves post-discharge. In 2010, I learned otherwise when my application of self-defense resulted in apprehension from civilian law enforcement officers (LEOs).

Though I was released without charges, I learned that not only couldn’t I protect others from harm, defense of self wasn’t an inherent right in the state of Texas. Fellow sheepdogs—though serving under the protection of the state, rather than the federal sector as I once had—surprised me with advice that I still find perplexing.

I was informed that as a veteran (civilian), I had no right to deescalate a use of force scenario. Perhaps this standard wouldn’t have been as much of a surprise if I’d listened to rapper Xzibit’s advice to his son in the song “The Foundation” when he said, “Son, if you ever pull heat, then use it. If you got a chance to walk away, then do it.”

LEOs instructed that I had no legal right to maintain a sidearm at the low ready position when an individual was advancing towards me, verbally communicating a threat to end my life, and keeping his hand concealed from my sight. I was further advised, “Next time, just shoot him.”

Scenario 2 –

Understanding that I was no longer authorized to function as a sheepdog within society, because I didn’t have protection of a badge on my chest, I was left uncertain about how to respond during an actual bomb threat situation during my time in graduate school for social work.

As a sheepdog MP, I responded to similar calls with preparation to use extreme force against would-be wolves. However, during 2012, the University of Texas at Austin disallowed concealed carry—thus removing my fangs as an instrument of protection.

Moreover, it was only two years prior when LEOs in Texas advised that I was only allowed to take a life, not deescalate an already violent situation. Suppose I encountered a wolf that was in the process of distributing bombs around campus, what could I do other than rely on others for my safety?

Scenario 3 –

Perhaps because of ignorance, fear, maleficence, or apathy for enumerated rights, sheep continually push for so-called gun control that would limit lawful gun owners from protecting themselves and would likely embolden wolves in their ability to pursue violent acts against sheep and sheepdogs alike.

Hearing “baa” crying from the flock, President Biden is said to have repeatedly lied to sheep in what is an apparent attempt to de-fang sheepdogs. I try to understand Grossman’s position in this regard, as he’s stated:

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, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who 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.”

Nevertheless, I grapple with the pragmatism of what is and cannot mistake what I think ought to be when considering this matter. If sheep fear the sheepdog, their collectively emotive response could eventually impede the sheepdog from defending self and others.

In scenario 1, I was encouraged to wait until death is upon me—not a moment shy of imminent danger—in order to respond to a threat with a reasonable amount of force. In essence, other sheepdogs required that I behave as a sheep.

If a person cannot self-protect, are LEO sheepdogs who advocate helplessness now behaving in a similar fashion as wolves? Does absolute dependence on the government create a safer society?

In scenario 2, an institution of higher learning impaired my ability to defend myself and others. Subsequent to my graduation, and despite a petition from sheep in opposition to the measure, Texas law allowed sheepdogs to conceal carry on college campuses.

However, it would appear as though sheep value use of TikTok over enumerated rights and the ability of other students to protect themselves. What impartial sheepdog would dare defend a sheep who would rather wolves prosper than allow protection of the flock?

In scenario 3, mistruths about gun ownership and self-protection contribute to the irrational beliefs of sheep, who marinate in fear that stems from their self-disturbing assumptions, and calls to undermine the rights of sheepdogs are heard in a thunderous “baaaaaa.”

Why would a person choose to continue behaving as a sheepdog when those who drape themselves in the skin of protectors while wielding similar fangs remain prepared for violence against lawful citizens and continually seek to infringe upon liberty in order to appease sheep?


Early in adolescence, I learned that not everything with fangs was harmful. My carnales from the blocc engaged in criminal activity, though I didn’t witness them targeting sheep.

In early adulthood, I came to understand that even designated sheepdogs could behave like wolves. Though perhaps a well-intended allegory, I eventually rejected Grossman’s concept of the sheep, wolf, and sheepdog.

Anecdotally, I’ve discovered that the notion of self-protection and the protection of others is far more nuanced than I comprehended when behaving like a sheepdog as an MP. For instance, on a micro level, non-military LEOs were less inclined to view other sheepdogs as protectors of the flock.

As well, on a mezzo level, some institutions would rather disadvantage a sheepdog than support one’s ability to protect self and others. Likewise, on a macro level, some government actors actively pursue the infringement of inalienable rights in order to appease fearful sheep.

Given all of this, what use is there in adopting the role of a sheepdog? This question isn’t to suggest that the only other option is the portrayal of sheep or wolves.

Using a rational approach to this matter, I think I’d rather be a honey badger that isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of the sheep, wolf, sheepdog trio. After all, I’ve been reliably informed that “Honey badger don’t care, honey badger don’t give a shit.”

How about you, dear reader? Do you upset yourself through identification with your role as a sheep, wolf, or sheepdog? Would you like to know how to self-disturb less and instead approach situations beyond your control with humor rather than disgust, fear, anger, or sorrow?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As the world’s foremost old school hip hop REBT psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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