The Bellwether of a certain farm, being the one sheep that the farmer trusted to lead the flock, grew full of his own importance; he insisted on directing the other sheep not only on where they were to graze, but on every other point of their lives. He told them which plants everyone could eat and which were reserved just for him, whether or not the lambs could bleat while he was napping, and even which of the other barnyard animals the other sheep could and could not speak to. Priding himself on his ability to talk to the leader of the goats, the pigs, the horses or the cows, he forbade the other sheep to engage any of these animals in conversation, electing himself as the sole ambassador for the sheep to the rest of the farm.
One day, the old Cart-Horse, passing by one of the lambs, said to her: “Although you are shorter than him and cannot see it, the Bellwether has a streak of mud along the top of his wool, and many of the taller animals are making fun of him behind his back. I thought one of you sheep should –”
But the Cart-Horse could not finish, for the Bellwether, seeing that a Lamb was daring to go against his authority, charged them both. The horse was able to run away, but the Lamb, caught by the Bellwether’s horns, was given a solid bruising, along with her “lesson” on just who was in charge. She never dared tell the Bellwether what they had been speaking about, and he never asked, and so he continued for many months to be the laughingstock of the larger animals, even after the mud had completely washed away.
A few years later, many of the sheep heard the other barnyard animals talking about the farmer telling his wife that the Bellwether had grown mean, and resolving to make a mutton stew. But, they remembered how the Bellwether had acted when he saw the Lamb talk to the Cart-Horse, and resenting the lead sheep’s lofty ways and authoritarian manner, did nothing to warn him when the farmer came for him.
Authority because of rank or status must be respected because of its power over us, but if any of us refuses to listen out of a sense of our own importance or insight, we risk missing vital information. Many organizations foster a culture where the levels of management amount to a caste system: those in authority forget to listen to the people they lead, even viewing them as “inferiors” and themselves as “superior,” simply because of their position in an organization, or their social or financial status. When those in leadership impose arbitrary rules designed to benefit themselves at the cost of the rank-and-file, they are merely acting unethically; when leaders ignore advice and counsel from their “subordinates”, or impose rules restricting open and honest communication, they walk a dangerous path which could lead not only to their own ruin, but that of their organization.
At Open Minds, we advocate a non-authoritarian approach, remembering that everyone, no matter what their status, has something valuable to contribute, and that everyone, from time to time, needs to be told when they are showing a splash of mud. Everyone, regardless of position, deserves to be treated as the complex and multifaceted individuals we all are, whether mighty bellwethers or tiny lambs.
What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel? Do you have a story about authority that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!