The phenomenon of applying societal rules to personal situations in an attempt to defend or explain poor personal behavior.
Over the course of trying to understand my own family’s history I’ve come across a phenomenon I’ve called the “Sheeple Defense”.
This defense basically explains away all poor personal behavior of the past with the statement “that’s just the way things were back then”.
I’ve found this statement being applied over and over again by many different people to defend a variety of acts.
At first, I took this at face value and thought that it may indeed, have been a valid response. After all, I reasoned, I wasn’t around “back then” so how could I possibly know the impact of societal pressures on personal behaviors.
As a conversation stopper, the “Sheeple Defense” worked a treat on me for those who used it.
But after hearing this particular defense offered up again and again as a rationale for past behavior I began to take note of the specific situations it was being applied too.
What I discovered was that the “Sheeple Defense” could be used to excuse just about every act of personal dishonesty, impropriety or abuse that it was applied too.
It’s a bit like the idea behind the Milgram Experiment where people were “told” to shock others by men in white coats and so they did.
Milgram discovered that the concept of instruction could be used by participants to justify their own actions in causing potential harm to others.
The key point of course being, that the participants chose to do harm, despite the fact that all they had to do to avoid it, was to say no and refuse to continue along with the experiment.
That’s right, participation in this experiment was entirely voluntary. No one made them do it.
Like Milgram, I believe that no matter what the situation, or how strong the social constructs of any given time may be, people do have the power to make personal choices.
This argument is particularly true when talking about acts that occur behind the closed doors of family homes. Where there are no men in white coats to direct the action.
Yet here too the “Sheeple Defense” is applied.
The problem with applying the “Sheeple Defense” to personal behaviors
The problem with applying the “Sheeple Defence” to personal behaviors is this:
If societal factors are as powerful a director of personal behavior as they are said to be, then how come the children next door were not also being “disciplined” with a fibre-glass fishing rod?
Why was it only us?
If ‘everyone else was doing it’, ‘if that’s just the way things were back then’, then why is it that I’ve not once heard another person outside of my own family, share this particular experience?
Owning your behavior
This has left me once again wondering just why it is exactly that people still choose to defend their past actions by applying the “Sheeple Defense” instead of admitting that they may have committed acts of harm on their own accord.
I’m a great believer in the concept that in order to change your behavior you have to first own it.
If people refuse to own their own past behavior then why should any of us to believe they’ve changed simply because of the passage of time.
If the passing of time doesn’t enable those who’ve committed acts of past harm to admit their own transgressions then we must question the wisdom of excusing past acts with the words “that’s just the way it was back then”.
It seems to me that in applying this excuse the villains of our past are transposing their justification into the present.
If in the present, we accept this claim, then the chain reaction that continually justifies past harms will never be broken and those of us who are struggling to deal with the residue formed by past harms, may never hold in hands the personal tools we need to truly wipe the slate clean.
Forgiveness may be one thing, but acknowledgement it appears, is something entirely other.
- The Milgram Experiment (infusionalchemy.wordpress.com)
- People are Sheep – Are You a Sheeple? (chelsiajennerstakeonlife.wordpress.com)
- Sheeple. (shannonlesko.wordpress.com)
- How Evil Are You? (i2i-align.com)
- Sheeple kinda people, Winning and Shining On. (lilmisssyn.wordpress.com)