It is said that a person who does the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is insane. So what do you call a person that follows the lead of others into a path lined without any meaningful results?
Seth Godin has a name for these people, sheepwalkers. They say sheep will follow each other one by one over the edge of a cliff to their death because they were simply following the lead of the one in front of them.
Godin describes sheepwalkers as people who blindly obey and follow the lead of others into brain-dead tasks, even ones that are clearly wrong, inefficient, broken, etc. These sheepwalkers blindly obey because other people are doing it too, or because they are driven by the fear of any repercussions for not following in line.
While it doesn’t necessarily have to be sheepwalking in the sense of brain-dead jobs, it can be in a variety of actions. The child who obeys their parents’ wish for them to choose a certain college, major, or career path is a sheepwalker.
This isn’t to say they are necessarily wrong in doing so. For all they know, their parents have the better judgment and “know what’s best for their kid.” So we follow what they say and life goes on toward what should be a bright and successful future.
Now sheepwalking does not always have to be following the orders of a superior (parent, boss, or any other), it can also come from a peer or friend, someone on the same level as you. The sheep follow one another to their death because hey, all the cool sheep are doing it, they must be right.
Now we start to see the darker side of this phenomenon. Sheepwalking isn’t always so innocent.
One of the darkest and strongest forms of sheepwalking that I think everyone can relate to is peer pressure. My sheepwalking story is of one of my best friends. A freshman in high school, just shy of 16 years old. A kid that started playing hockey at the same time I did.
We started in the same hockey 101 class and went on to play hockey together for several years, traveling the state of Florida together, pursuing our dream of college hockey. He was a great kid with a great personality and had a very bright future ahead of him in school, hockey, and life as a whole.
He was hanging out with some of friends, kids I do not know, at one of their houses. His friends started popping pills and, as the sheepwalking goes, he followed their lead. To my knowledge, this was the first time he had done this, and according to the accounts of his “friends,” it was. This would also be his last time, as he overdosed.
I will never forget laying in bed and getting the phone call. In a flash, I was at the funeral, acting as pallbearer, carrying one of my closest friends.
Now here I am, living out our dream of college hockey, wondering where he would be were it not for that one slip of sheepwalking, following the lead of those undeserving of leading.