People versus Sheeple. Which side are you on?

Via Ben Ralston
on Sep 30, 2010
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Are you human, or are you one of the sheeple?

Don’t get me wrong – I love sheep. But not when they are pretending to be humans!!

It was brought to my attention recently how un-human many humans are!

I came off my bike, and was lying by the side of the road, wondering if I had broken anything. It was here in the hills where I live, and there was no-one around to help me – until a car came along… and passed. The passenger, a metre away, looked through the window, pointed at me, laughing!

I would say that “I couldn’t believe it”, but the fact is, I wasn’t all that surprised…. something very similar happened to me years ago in London – but that time I was in a busy street, surrounded by literally hundreds of people, and again, not a single person so much as asked if I was ok… although I had a very serious and dramatic accident. I was lucky to be alive actually.

Why is it that people are so uncaring about each other?

I believe that there are many reasons – for example, sometimes people are really in a hurry; caught up in their problems; stressed. I can understand that. However I think that the main reason lies elsewhere: I think that many people are afraid. Afraid of being seen – of being visible. Afraid of being heard. Afraid of what might happen in this unexpected, unusual, extra-ordinary encounter with a stranger.

Afraid of breaking out of their comfort zone. Afraid of breaking through the little bubble of habituated routine that they inhabit.

The fact is that many people have become like sheep. Fearful, and ready to do only what they are told.

At the Nuremberg trials, as we all know, the German officers and soldiers responsible for mass murder and genocide stated that they were simply
“following orders”.

I see that many people today are still perfectly happy to follow orders, even if those orders are apparently against what they believe in.

For example, recently on French television, an experiment was carried out:
In the documentary, ‘contestants’ were told  that they were taking part in a ‘reality t.v. show’. They were told by the ‘T.V. presenter’ (played by an actor) to electrocute the other contestants for giving wrong answers. The person being ‘electrocuted’ was also an actor, but the ‘contestants’ didn’t know this. The purpose of the documentary was to find out how far people would go before saying ‘No’ to an authority figure.

Guess what? They were prepared to follow orders even to the point where the person being electrocuted could be killed.

Actually, this experiment was a replica of a famous scientific research conducted by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s – in which the results were the same. The times have changed; human behaviour has not.

To me, this shows the extent to which we allow others to take our power from us – if someone is in a position of apparent authority – whether they are a politician, a doctor, or a television presenter! – we are often all too happy to give our power to them.

But there is another side to this. We are not only prepared to follow orders. We are unprepared to act on our own initiative. So many people are so brainwashed by television; advertising; and our excuse for an education system (which really educates people how not to think for themselves) that they actually don’t know how to think for themselves. If they are not told what to do, they tend to do nothing.

The great philosopher Bertrand Russell once said:
“Most people would rather die than think. In fact, they do so!”

Of course, we all go through the normal day to day activities, but anything out of the ordinary presents many people with a difficult challenge. So when they come across the unusual situation (for example) of a man at the side of the road underneath a bicycle, they simply point and laugh nervously!

I wrote recently about FREEDOM, and how we are often unable to react spontaneously because we are so conditioned by our prejudices, fears, and ideas about the world around us. But I have realised that there is something else which limits people’s freedom in a more fundamental way: this inability to act without being encouraged; given permission; or even being ordered, to do so.

If you came across a person at the side of the road, under a bicycle, would you stop to help? If *you* were one of those unwitting ‘contestants’ in the documentary, how far would you go?

Do you have the courage to break free from social conditioning in order to do what you know in your heart you must do: to do the right thing, in any given moment, no matter the cost?

Because – correct me if I’m wrong here – isn’t that what makes us human?


About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


23 Responses to “People versus Sheeple. Which side are you on?”

  1. SevaSouleYoga says:

    Great article though it made me a little sad. In the interest of giving you hope though, I'll mention that my family was stopped by a stranger in Chicago last weekend who said he needed help to get his car out of a garage (he had forgotten his wallet). We decided it was better to help the poor guy than to just think of him as some sneaky dude. He took our information to send the money back or get in touch, so we'll see what happens. Even if he never gets back to us, or he really was trying to swindle us, no worries. It was the right thing to do at the time.

  2. indrasingh says:

    Today i passed the church in the town i live, the vicar was coming out of the church after harvest festival, he fell, people rushed to help him but as i was walking away i saw 2 men approaching the scene who had just caught the end of the incident. I heard one of them say ' wish i had f**king seen all that, it would have made my day.' You know what? i wasn't shocked when i heard it because i've heard these mocking remarks so many times before.
    To read your article hit the nail on the head, why do we behave this way to one another?
    Thanks Ben-food for thought

  3. BellaP says:

    "… this inability to act without being encouraged; given permission; or even being ordered, to do so. "
    Bingo. That one sentence perfectly sums everything up. Thank you for posting this Truth.


  4. When I was 24 I was a peace corp volunteer in West Africa. I was young and so out of my element, my stress level was unhealthily out of balance and I was overwhelmed physically, emotionally, spiritually and any other ways one can be overwhelmed. I was there to help. To give, to be a friend, to open myself up and to love and to learn and to do all of the things one thinks they will do when one joins the peace corp. I was a giver, not one to turn away. At least that's what I thought of myself. Me, miss world peace and love.

    To be continued…

  5. One day I was in the market buying bread and I saw a boy about 8 years old limping. I noticed he had a cut on the side and bottom of his foot. It wasn't a gash that needed stitches, but it was bleeding and he was barefoot. I thought about the germs that might infect his cut, I thought about how I couldn't really talk to him about it because I didn't speak Hassaniya or Pular, I thought about how weird it would be if I just mimed getting a piggy-back ride to my house where I could use my own first-aid kit to dress the boys wound. I thought about any unwelcome criticism coming from locals who didn't want us there if I actually carried this boy to my house. I thought about how most of the kids didn't have shoes, medicine or even food or clean water and what was the point of trying to help one kid when so many were infected, hungry and in need? I thought and thought until he was gone and I did nothing. I think about this boy all of the time.

  6. Ben Ralston says:

    Thank you Kelsi,
    you may be right – perhaps by using the word sheeple I’m alienating the very people I’m talking to.
    On the other hand, i think we *all* are guilty at some time or another of this kind of unconscious behavior. Would the article be better served by more ‘diplomatic’ language? Probably, but that’s just the way I roll I guess…
    Actually, originally when I wrote this I didn’t use the word sheeple. Yesterday I ‘discovered’ it, was reminded of this piece, and decided to publish it on EJ and use my new word.
    Anyway, thanks for your support and the thought provoking comment. I’d love to know what you think – would I be better off not being so provocative / alienating people?
    With love, Ben

  7. Ben_Ralston says:

    Good for you and your family Seva – it's so easy to just be cynical. Maybe he steals your cash and you never hear from him again. At least your conscience will be clear knowing that you tried to do the right thing. His won't be, and he will learn from it, one way or another.
    I hope you hear from him in any case!

  8. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey Nye, I'm fine thank you! I seem to have a knack for 'bouncing' – never broken a bone in my life, and I've had plenty of opportunity…
    I hope that If I am preaching to the choir they share the gospel with their less devout friends and family! But in any case, I'm really not sure who the choir is… I think we all have a tendency to follow the crowd and do as we're told rather than think for ourselves – some more than others, sure, but when you look at the statistics, and the lessons from history, it's pretty scary!

  9. Ben Ralston says:

    Why? No idea… I think our culture / society breeds unconscious behavior and separatism – so that people don’t think for themselves, and don’t feel for other people unless they know them personally?

  10. Ben Ralston says:

    Hi Natalie,
    I really think that we all do this sometimes. It’s really not easy to be giving and conscious and courageous *all the time*.
    You were 24, totally out of your depth, overwhelmed and stressed – pretty good excuse I’d say!
    Wonderful that you were even in the peace corps!
    Perhaps also wonderful that you didn’t help him – so that you always have his image in your loving mind… maybe you’ve actually helped him more like that than you would have if you’d cleaned his foot up. And the incident has helped you to be more sensitive and loving and giving as a result right?
    Love, Ben

  11. Paul says:

    Neither, I am a walrus.

  12. Chris says:

    Two links showing two ends of the responsibility continuum to share: The first is what happens when a thief (played by an actor) pretends to be stealing a bike in broad daylight with dozens of people looking on….

    The second is of a man doing a hero's work in the U.K.

    Enjoy and pass it along!

  13. Mary says:

    There ARE angels among us, however. When I biked the 15,000+ miles from Inuvik, NT to Ushuaia, Argentina, 99% of the people I met along the way were kind, curious, concerned, and so danged generous, it was exhausting just thinking "how can I ever live up to the example they're teaching me?" Help (with bloody gashes and road rashes, cholera, hepatitis, or just taking a wrong turn onto the "wrong side of the tracks") arrived in the most unexpected places at the most opportune times. One wonderful surprise was in Texas; 30 nights on the road, 30 invitations to be a guest in a private home. Plus one night in jail, as the sheriff wanted to keep us safe from the Halloween hooligans haha! But truly, having pedaled vulnerably through war zones and drug cartel areas and finding only tender hearts and hard-working families, I believe I've learned a bit about the average person's desire to know and help others, even strangers, along life's path. So my two cents is basically, get back on the bike and keep riding, faith in humanity intact.

  14. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks Chris, the second one is hilarious. I love the looks on some of the 'cops' faces as he hugs them…

  15. Anna Fidz says:

    Ben, awesome article! Something I have thought about quite often! I hope I'm more human than sheeple! At least I try to be!

  16. Keith says:

    You have a wonderful insight and understanding of what is. I get great pleasure in reading you posts. Thank you.

  17. Ben_Ralston says:

    great to hear a positive and life affirming story like that, thanks Mary! Sounds like you had a truly amazing journey!

  18. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hey Anna, I'm sure you're all human!

  19. Ben_Ralston says:

    Honest reply. I think it's easy to *think* that we'd help, but as you say – schtuff comes up.

  20. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you very much Keith.

  21. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, it's sad. Read the comment above by Mary and you'll feel a little better. I did!
    With love, Ben

  22. […] People versus Sheeple. Which side are you on? […]