Since the onset of textiles, black sheep were not the kind of sheep you wanted in your flock. Baa baa black sheep, we don’t want your wool. Black wool is almost worthless commercially because it cannot be dyed. It is difficult to sell. Even one strand of it can spoil the entire shear. It is no wonder that in antiquity, any sheep that happened to be black were a liability to the owner. Shepherds would remove each one from their flock to restrict inbreeding with white sheep and tainting the purity of the lot. The term “black sheep” evolved from a practical solution for an age-old problem. Along the way, the meaning shifted from simple differences in appearance to the state of one’s character.To be the black sheep is usually a negative connotation, one that is synonymous with moral deficiency and lapses in judgment. The black sheep tends to be rebuked and ostracized by their family, friends, people at work, even church members. Any person who is regarded as a disgrace or failure by that family, peer group or faith institution is considered a black sheep. Any member of any group that stands in contrast to the other members of those groups, usually by reason of undesirable character, is a black sheep. It just goes without saying that the group gets to define these unsuitable traits. There is always a black sheep to every flock. No one can be bothered to take their coat either.
To be a black sheep does not always infer blackballing. It can refer to being special yet still different from the rest of us. Again, this will always depend on exactly who you are talking to and their own view of the person in question. You can choose to be the black sheep. Every rebel, each revolution found movement by breaking away from the norm. Some people take great effort in resisting. They try so hard to be different, so much so that being different becomes who they are. The modern age of information has set upon us all kinds of black sheep. From the Neo-Nazi ex-con calling for the rise of the Fifth Reich to the homosexual teenager who blogs about being bullied at school, it seems that being a black sheep is so much more in fashion these days. Being different gets you noticed and that appears to be all that matters.
Psychologists now refer to the behaviour of not wanting someone to be part of a group or institution as the "Black Sheep Effect." This tendency to ostracize people that are undesirable is so prevalent the term itself has become the norm. I suppose that in some sense the world would be very different from what it is today had there been no black sheep. Throughout human history, it has been the dreamers, the great thinkers and even the rejects who have shaped our civilization, our culture. Without them and their cause, there would have been no effect.
One of the greatest challenges in life is to be yourself. For some, it can seem so easy. For others, it is most difficult. This reality we exist within does its very best to ensure we are all like everyone else. Harmony really means conformity. To stand apart, to maintain your fortitude in the face of compliancy, these are not negative traits cast upon the outcast. To think for yourself, to challenge the status quo, to be unique among the obligingness of your fellow men, despite all the consequences, this is integrity. If nothing else, history has taught us to “be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind” (Dr. Seuss).
“He who places self-merit in goods, acknowledges and believes that all good is from himself; because in the goods he does he has regard to himself, and not to the Lord, and accordingly demands recompense on account of his merit. Such a one therefore despises others in comparison with himself, and even condemns them, and consequently in the same proportion recedes from heavenly order, that is, from good and truth.” (Arcana Caelestia, Emanuel Swedenborg c.1749-56)
I always felt like a black sheep growing up. Sometimes I still feel this way. When I was young, the term was more of a social label that I placed upon myself because I did not always fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have my friends, or a place in the scheme of it all. I was different from other kids. I did not always play well with others. I never understood what my peers where thinking, or why they behaved the way they did. I was often angry. I was introspective, sensitive and felt isolated within my own little world. I preferred sitting with my comic books or playing with my action figures far more than street hockey in the parking lot or checking out girls at the swimming pool. I did those things but they held little interest for me. Books interested me. Adventure interested me. Thinking was my forte and everyone constantly talking seemed only to distract me. This occasionally gave way to resentment. I was a black sheep to a few of my extended family members as well. Telling your Grandmother to fuck off usually results in that sort of label. I rarely ever bit my tongue or edited what I had to say. With the exception of my parents and a few siblings, I literally felt like I was very much alone.For the most part, I was quite well liked within my immediate family. I got along with most, that is until I stopped being heterosexual. My internal dialogue, while in the closet, coupled with any fragmented rage I brought with me from my childhood, turned me into a force to be reckoned with. I grew up tough, strong and completely resilient. No one dared to say a thing to my face for fear of what I may say or do. I like it this way. Behind my back is a different story. Relatives I had been extremely close with allowed the idea of my homosexuality to dictate their contact. Some even allowed others to use my sexual orientation as a means of demanding they not have anything to do with me. Over and over again, there always seemed to be a reason people stopped calling or neglected any relationship I had built with them. People I had known almost my entire life walked away from me because of what I did under the covers. People can blame someone else for their decisions all they want, but only the individual has the power to stand up for what is right. The times may have changed, being gay may be in fashion and much more accepted, but the bigot never is. Coming out was an expensive decision on my part, despite no longer having to worry about the cost.
“What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst
This world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?”
(Blessings, Laura Story 2011)
The summer after my Mother died found me travelling with my Dad and my sister’s family up toDuring the heat wave of July 2013, my Aunt Vi passed away at the age of 91. I have such fond memories of her shop full of treasures and of her rather brash use of the English language. I liked her very much. We sat halfway back from the coffin and portable pulpit, attempting not to presume anything. As people came and went, I noticed it was not like it used to be. Occasionally, someone would recognize my father or my sister, but I sat convinced I had chosen a good spot to avoid such meetings. At times, I forced myself into someone’s space but only to honour my Mother and what I know she would have wanted from me on this day. As the services ended, the room emptied out rather quickly considering the average age of those attending. I turned around and noticed her, dressed all in black and standing alone. No one had bothered with her. Not one person had thanked her for coming. It was as if she wasn’t there at all.
to see the remaining members of my
maternal bloodline. I had always felt welcome when I visited these people in
the past. As I stood discussing my charity work with my Great-Aunt Doreen, she
noticed the wedding ring on my wedding finger. It was her inquiry that led me
to reveal myself to her. In due course, she proceeded to ask why I had made
such an immoral lifestyle choice. Not wanting to offend in return, I quietly
said that I had not made such a choice. I had been this way all along. This was
not the first or the last time I would be sentenced to hell by someone who had
been given the authority to speak for their god. According to her, I was
consciously choosing to dance in the flames. When we left, all pleasantries
were bestowed upon me. I forwarded a list of family members and their bios to
my Uncle Chuck for his Family Tree project as he had requested. We saw my Aunt
Fran and my Aunt Vi and we visited the rest in the cemetery. Not one of them
condemned me for my good looks. Hanover, Ontario
My second cousin Faith and I hit it off almost immediately when we first met back in the 1980s. Her mother Elsye was my Mother’s favourite aunt and a delight for me. A few correspondences and the occasional visits only cemented my appreciation of both these ladies. Distance and time may have restricted any real closeness, but I have always thought highly of both. When Elsye passed away, her death left a large gaping hole in any reason I had to enjoy my visits to this central
I could sense my Mother pushing me, begging me to notice who she was. I could almost feel her shove me from behind. It was a message I could not ignore. It had been twenty years but I knew it had to be her. She is the one person that no one else had really spoken to. She was pretty and looked younger than one might have expected after living in
“If you had not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you,no humility, no compassion. ” (Eckhart Tolle, German author)
Most of the people that I know who are considered “black sheep” are more successful, have greater internal fortitude, and are much more together than the rest of their flock. Having been ignored, shunned and rejected all your life tends to make you either a strong person or a dead person. For those who refuse to surrender, it is often a lonely path. The isolation can hurt but black sheep always seem to bounce right back. They have been stepped on and devalued so much that words no longer hold power over them. What others think of you becomes a moot point. You realize very young that most people are not going to be there for you so you learn how to deal with things all on your own. The truth is the only person you will ever truly be able to count on 100% is you. To survive, you must have faith in yourself.
When it comes right down to it, you have to decide if you are the one with the problem or those condemning you are the ones with the problem. Perhaps all who have rejected you are themselves black sheep and your coat has been snow white all along. We have to remember that it is not always a bad thing to be excluded or left out. Being the black sheep may give someone permission not to associate with you, but this can be a helpful instrument in disguising your own disinterest in them. You never know what may be a blessing in disguise. People forget black wool is just as warm as any fashionable white fleece and it’s affordable to boot. Convince yourself, then you can forget about everyone else. There are no walls, no barriers, no restrictions on your forward motion unless you place them there yourself. Leave all that to the haters. Let them be your greatest teachers. Let them test your compassion, strength and most of all your faith in yourself. These things shall not kill you.
Religion infers the idea we cannot handle the trails of life without God. We should depend on Him, rely on Him and make His will our will as well. We are told that without God we can never do anything on our own. The truth is, God wants you to be able to handle this life, with or without Him. The lessons you take from living are supposed to give you the ability to stand on your own two feet. He wants us running through a meadow, not grazing on life like a sheep in a pasture would. When left alone, when cast out from others, you are in a process. God has not abandoned you, He is training you, shaping you, believing in you.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’” (Luke 15:1-7, NIV)
You cannot truly believe in God until you believe in yourself. You must have faith in who you are, before anyone else can believe in you. It is easier to have self-assurance and confidence when life has been easy. When you are number one, when you are a winner, you don’t really need God, at least not in the conventional ways. God wants us to “come” to Him, not because we need His help or we fear Him or want something from Him. God wants you to trust Him because you realize that you never have to go through anything on your own. That is what Faith is for. He is with us as comfort, not assurance. Life is hard and believing in yourself is a necessary tool for surviving it. It sucks, but while we exist in this reality, we really are on our own. The Christian tradition teaches us that God understands this isolation because He was here. We tend to forget that Jesus himself was a black sheep.