Metaphors can be powerful literary tools. They are the main reason why the pen is mightier than the sword. The metaphors lamb, wolf, and lion are no less powerful when used as tools toward a deeper understanding of the human condition and a healthier flourishing of human potential.
In a world of blind obedience to authority, it takes a particular type of courage to wake up the blindly obedient to the level of their ignorance, and to poke holes in the unhealthy, unsustainable and illusory power constructs built by entrenched authority. The blindly obedient are the lambs.
The entrenched authority are the wolves. And the uncommonly courageous are the lions. Let’s break it down. Here are five ways to transform lambs into lions. (My deepest apologies to this most beautiful and magical creature: the noble wolf. Please forgive my crude metaphor.)
1) Break the shepherd’s spell
“Belief is a wound that knowledge heals.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
A Shepherd (a wolf in sheep’s clothing) is any authority claiming that it needs to keep you contained for your own “safety.” Whether that authority is religious, political, cultural, nationalistic, or racist in nature, these Shepherds of the Psyche capitalize on the ignorance of the lamb in order to maintain their power and influence.
We break the spell by turning the tables on our own ignorance. We break the spell by questioning first ourselves, second the perceived authority of the shepherd and, finally, the most difficult questioning of all, the questioning of our own belief and worldview.
But, as Daniel Dennett shrewdly put it, “There is no polite way to suggest to someone that they have devoted their life to a folly.” And so too there is no polite way to suggest to ourselves that we have devoted our lives to a folly. Cognitive dissonance is sure to arise. But we need only remember these words: “When an honest man realizes that he is mistaken, he will either cease being mistaken or cease being honest.” This decision is critical in whether one becomes a wolf or a lion.
2) Transform fear into courage
“Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Lambs are too afraid. Wolves are too intent upon keeping everyone afraid. The lion breaks the vicious cycle with small and large acts of courage. But how does a lamb transform fear into courage and thus become the brave lion who is capable of keeping wolves in check?
Lambs need to learn how not to be afraid of change. They need to learn that everything changes. There is no permanence. All things die. Lambs are lambs because they are clinging to the known, to what they love, afraid of the unknown. And they are so afraid of losing what they love that they become puppets to their fear. But things will always change; even what is “known” will change. Even love changes, though agape-love, cosmic love, is ever-present.
The key is to embrace change, then change the fear into courage, and then use that courage to face the unknown. But it’s a tricky tightrope between fear and courage, and the menacing maw of the abyss is ever-present beneath it. The way is not for the faint of heart. Which is probably why there are so few lions among men.
As George Orwell said, “Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.” Becoming conscious is becoming aware that things change, and embracing and appreciating the terribly beautiful impermanence of it all. But beneath that appreciative embrace is the roar of a lion.
3) Teach mastery not obedience
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Don’t be a boss, be a Leader. Don’t be an apprentice, be a potential master. Learn from great leaders, but always question them –be they great or not. If they are truly great, then they will lead by example and will honestly embrace your questioning. If they are not great, they will reject your questioning and order you around.
But you must learn what not to do from this type of “leader” as well. Like Anthony de Mello said, “You are only a disciple because your eyes are closed. The day you open them you will see there is nothing you can learn from me or anyone. What then is a Master for? To make you see the uselessness of having one.”
We don’t need masters, we need mastery. We don’t need leaders, we need to become leaders. I don’t mean leaders who are intent upon leading blind followers into battle. I mean leading by example. I mean leading yourself first, opening doors, shining the light, and moving on with your mastery in tow. If people want to follow your example and shine their own light by your side, so be it.
But you are not their master. Nor are you their leader. You are simply a fallible human being shining your light upon other fallible human beings. That’s it. Some will get your light, and some will not. But you should not be looking for obedient servants. The world needs more mastery, not more obedience. Like Howard Zinn wrote, “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.” Lead by fearless lionhearted example, and then watch as the lambs transform themselves into lions.
4) Teach young David how not to be a victim to Goliath
“We are all ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause.” ~ William James
If, as Matt Langdon said, “The opposite of a hero isn’t a villain; it’s a bystander,” then lambs are the “innocent” bystanders sitting safely on the sidelines while the lionhearted Davids are taking on the overreaching behemoth that is Goliath. Goliath is any bloated and entrenched system of oppression that has the monopoly on military, money, and power.
It’s any system that is intent upon keeping itself in power at all costs, even at the expense of fragile ecosystems and innocent lives. It’s a system directly supported by ruthless wolves and indirectly supported by ignorant lambs. It’s a system that will wail “terrorist!” at anything that attempts to take it down. But, as Howard Zinn said, “They’ll say we’re disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war.”
But the lambs don’t realize that they are the foundation upon which the wolf-built Goliath megastructure is set. It was on the backs of innocent sheep that the aggrandized man-machine, steered by Goliath, was built. Without them, Goliath topples. Which is the main reason why transforming as many cowardly lambs into courageous lions is so vitally important.
If we can ever achieve a scenario where there are more lions than lambs, then Goliath simply falls under its own unsustainable weight. But until then, we need to teach the lambs how to be brave, and how not to be victims. So they too can gain the lionhearted courage of a David. We need to help them realize, as Emma Donoghue did: “Scared is what you’re feeling, brave is what you’re doing.”
5) Teach amoral agency over moral complacency
“The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semi-human, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, ‘divine’.” ~ Carl Jung
Luckily there is a middle stage between the lamb and the lion: which is the black sheep. In a world of sidelined sheep suffering from moral complacency and fear-based apathy, driven by wolves suffering from bloated egos and unfounded pride, the black sheep is the amoral agent setting the record straight.
They are encouraged by lions, and sometimes they even are lions, who are just moving between being black sheep and lions. A black sheep may or may not have the courage of a lion, but they at least have the wherewithal to be nonconformists and to question the establishment of wolves. They are harnessing the power of amoral agency in order to wake up the morally complacent sheep and to keep the immorally adjacent wolves in check.
Comfort is addictive. So too is power. The lamb is addicted to the former, and the wolf the latter. The amoral black sheep brings discomfort to the overly-comfortable, while also dismantling the high-horse of power. Together, along with the courage of lions, they are systematically changing the system for the better. Transforming lambs into lions and sheep into black sheep is the most effective way to keep the corrupt power of wolves from corrupting absolutely.
“The price of being a sheep is boredom,” wrote Hugh Macleod. “The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with care.” But I say there is a third option. The price of being a lion is being courageous despite fear. When it comes down to it, there is immense adventure to be had in this life. And being a lion, or at least an amoral black sheep, is really where all the adventure is at.
“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” ~ attributed to Benjamin Franklin
Two Wolves and a Lamb Decide on What to Eat for Lunch
They say I won’t always be a lamb.
Sacrificed for the greater good,
That is my chief end, they say.
But where do they keep all the bullets?
I wonder. Where are the printing presses hidden?
As my fur becomes black their eyes become fear.
And I grow heavy with unimaginable freedom.
They say my evolution defies the one-right-way.
They throw their power. Now the bible.
Now the gunpoint. And though I’m told
That I’m what’s for lunch, I believe
The tables have been turned. My sheep’s clothing
Lies discarded and bleeding in the corner.
My lion-jaw is clinched and flecked.
I eat well, and sneak liberty out by the gallons.