Friday, July 12, 2013

"A Tiger Doesn't Lose Sleep Over the Opinion of Sheep" But Maybe They Should

I'd like to take a moment to dissect a phrase that pops up in my facebook/tumblr/pinterest/myface feeds quite a bit that I kind of hate.

That phrase is:

"A tiger (or sometimes a wolf or lion) doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep."

Here are some points, in no particular order, explaining all of the reasons I hate this phrase:

1. First- Tigers (and lions) don't really eat that many sheep. They tend to eat wild animals like deer, and boar. Sometimes they will hunt and kill baby elephants. Once in awhile they will hunt domesticated animals but where they live (Asia) there really aren't that many sheep. So of course they aren't going to lose sleep over the opinions of sheep because for the most part, they probably don't even know what a sheep is. Saying a tiger (or lion) doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep is like saying a whale doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of a unicorn.

2. I mean, do tigers even get insomnia? Are there any tigerologists out there?

3. But really here's my big problem. The central meaning of the phrase is basically that powerful, confident people shouldn't stay awake at night worrying about the opinions of other people. Specifically, they (the human predator) should not let the opinions of people who are beneath them (sheeple (I just barfed in my mouth after typing that)) cause them concern. Basically, the phrase implies, I am a superior human, and I don't care what you peasants think about me.

Isn't that just a LITTLE gross? The idea that ANYONE would think "I am a superior human. The things I do and think place me above other people, and therefore I should not concern myself with those people's opinions." I mean, what gives you the right to think you are "above" anyone else? Because you make more money than other people? Or because you think you work harder than other folks? Or because you think you're more creative than them? And how the hell do you know that you work harder/are smarter/whatever? Did you see a chart somewhere that shows that, empirically, you are better than other humans? Is there a universal ranking of all humans everywhere that tells us where we stand on the food chain of humanity? Can I see it so I can make judgements about the methodology that they used?

Oh, and as a "sub-thing" that I take issue with, maybe you shouldn't lose sleep over the opinions of "sheep" but it's generally a bad idea to banish all knowledge of those opinions from your mind. Knowing what other people (or what sheep) are thinking about gives you knowledge that helps you make better, more informed opinions. Like, maybe as a tiger you should spend some time in sheep chatrooms, or read a sheep magazine (like Sheeple Magazine (...and I barfed again)). Make some spreadsheets and charts that details what kind of thing sheep are thinking. THEN when you've really gotten to know some sheep you can make a better decision about how you approach them.

Look, I get it. The core of the phrase, what it should say, is "It's not healthy to stress out about other people's opinions. Just be yourself." But that wording is kind of boring. Talking about tigers and what they think they might want to eat some day is more dramatic. Saying stuff like that though? Stuff that implies that you're a predator, and I'm your prey, and you don't give a shit about what I think? That doesn't make you seem cool. It just makes you seem like an asshole.


  1. The saying is usually tied to a story about being the best you can be. Yes, it does encourage individuals to be better than average because that encourages everyone to raise the standard. This is how we get better service and products, by allowing people to compete and refine their products and abilities. You can say whatever you want, but you and I both know I am only speaking the truth!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Anonymous (if that is your real name...),

    I hear you. I get that it's important to strive to be better- I just think there are ways to encourage people to perform "above average" that don't involve comparing other folks to "sheep". Thank you for allowing me to say whatever I want. I still think it's a silly phrase.

    -Sean K.

  4. Sean,

    First - I want to say that I like your writing style a lot, and I am very impressed with this post, and with your attention to detail regarding proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. NO - I am not hung up on these things for their own sake, nor do I particularly admire the English language in general, for obvious linguistic reasons. I DO, however, fully understand the importance of correct usage of the language (as much as possible, considering what a ridiculously inconsistent language it is) in conveying a thought or message in the most effective and meaningful way. I, personally, find it difficult to fully respect and take seriously the writing of a person who does not care about such things.

    There - my rant is done. Anyhow...

    I agree with everything you said, which is pretty uncommon in itself - for me, but I want to offer a thought on the matter which you may not have considered.

    I am not a religious person, nor would I claim to be particularly spiritual, per se, but I do generally align

    myself with Buddhist principles, and I strive to achieve a measure of humility in my everyday life.

    I think of this phrase in a slightly different way than the ways that you mentioned. I interpret it to mean,

    generally, that when one is attempting to grow as a person, and move forward or upward, one of the great challenges

    to personal growth is to avoid being held back by the negativity of others. It's like crabs in a bucket, you know.

    Any time ONE crab tries to get out, the other ones grasp it tenaciously with their claws, and will never let it get out of the bucket.

    If one is being held back or attacked by those who wish to stop their movement, it is useful to focus on the task at hand and its purpose, and not be distracted or discouraged by the negative influence of those who are resentful or jealous. Sometimes people are locked into a way of being or thinking that they see as inescapable, and they will subconsciously (or consciously) do all that they can to prevent someone from rising above and finding a higher level of awareness.

    It is not necessary to see it as a judgement. It is more like seeing those others as people who are not willing or capable of seeing outside of their own current realm of understanding, and in that way, are analogous to sheep, who
    accept only what they see and know in front of their eyes, and are frightened of anything else. A tiger is scared of nothing, and will not be shackled by crippling fear of the unknown, as sheep are.

  5. Hi Todd,

    Thanks for the very thoughtful post! I actually like the crabs in a bucket analogy much better than the tiger/sheep analogy. One of the things that....bugs me about the tiger/sheep statement is the idea that we are separating human beings into categories of predator and prey. We're all human beings. We're all the same. Deciding that people who are not you are...mindless food is kind of counterproductive to me. We are all fighting a hard battle, right? But when you make everyone level- we are all crabs in a bucket- I think the analogy works a little better.

    The only issue I take with the crab/bucket analogy is that it still doesn't seem to take into account the idea that no one person exists in a vacuum. We all get to where we are going by a combination of our own efforts, and the assistance of others. So maybe the analogy would work better if you were talking about a team, or a family of crabs, united in a common goal- getting out of the bucket- climbing on top of each, giving each other a claw up, defending themselves against rival crabs- in order to achieve said goal.

    Anywho. I'm glad you liked the blog! Thanks for reading!

    -Sean K.

  6. Like you, I cannot stand this phrase. It, by it's very nature, is self-aggrandizement in it's purest form. I see a person who uses it as "someone I should steer clear of" - They probably have mental problems and a very skewed sense of self and possibly a very low self-esteem.

    There is no way this phrase is about wanting people to strive to be better. A Tiger is meant to be the predator/killer/eater of the sheep. No sheep could rise up to be as good as the Tiger (?) - that scenario just makes no sense.

    Like I said above, a person who thinks of themselves as a "tiger" - is prob a total douche.

  7. All this phrase is saying is that sheep can't hurt tigers. So don't be worried about how people who can't hurt you think of you. It's not about alpha vs beta rather its about not worrying yourself with the how the people who are outside of the people you care about think of you

  8. Keller, I think it's a bit going over the edge automatically classifying one who uses the phrase to be someone with mental problems, a skewed sense of self, low self-esteem, and is a total douche.

    I see this as not condemning the sheep to never be better than the tiger, but for one to see himself as a tiger that can not be harmed by sheep, sheep being the people he is trying to triumph over.

    As an introvert with difficulty speaking in public, I (and before anyone says it, introversion and difficulty with public speaking are not mental problems) tend to keep this quote in mind when I have to present and perform in class. I stop worrying about the other people and what they might think of the occasional stutter or awkward pause, because instead of being the little shit that shakes and can't speak in front to save his life, I want to be the tiger that gets the top grade, and rise above the rest. I don't do this to be a douche. I do this because I want to be successful, and this actually works for me. I've been on the Dean's List for several terms in a row now.

    Of course it's all open to interpretation. I just interpret it as a reminder that to be the tiger, you shouldn't worry about the sheep. Also, I heard of a similar version of this, which is "Wolves don't lose sleep over the opinions of sheep." It just sounds better and more believable, considering what the author says about tigers not hunting deer.

    A good day to you all.

  9. I think it worth noting that humanity, ultimately, are the observers in the equation, not the tiger nor the sheep, neither of whom bother to ponder such things, much less pontificate. "I and i am a camera."

    That said, I agree with the original post: This metaphor is an ego fallacy.

  10. I think you've missed the whole inspirational aspect of this saying by taking it in a more class-focused approach. Do you worry about ants? Roaches? Grasshoppers? People who have their shit going for them don't need to be concerned with people whose opinion, while may be differering, doesn't affect the day-to-day of said people. I love it and until you realize that this world is full of sheeps and lions then everyone you meet will be a schizophrenic in your eyes. I'm sure those crazy people don't care though.

    1. Yes actually, I do worry about ants, roaches, and grasshoppers thanks for asking. People who "have their shit going for them" especially need to be mindful of people around them. What makes people who "have their shit going for them" any different. Sure you don't have to follow what people say religiously, but it is common social skills to value others' opinions to a point.

  11. Hi Anonymous (is that your first name, or your last name?),

    I haven't missed the point at all, I just think the point is kind of stupid. And I'm not focused on class- the quote is. The rest of your comments just prove it. If you think that some people are "sheep" and others are "tigers", then I am really sad for you. You've closed yourself off to alot of possibility in your life by thinking that way.

    Also, I think ants are kind of awesome. And grasshoppers too!

    Thanks for your time,

    Sean Kelleu

  12. Your fundamental flaw is in thinking that people are equal. They are not. I realize you have probably been told you are a special snowflake your entire life, but the reality is that just isn’t true. If you truly believe that there aren’t people out there who consider themselves predators and you and yours prey than you have been living a relatively privileged life where other people have shouldered the burden of protecting you from the predators.

    Tell me again how Tesla = Kanye, or Einstein = Tom Cruise. People may be born equal but afterwards things change pretty rapidly.

  13. Isn't Mindie doing exactly what she despises? Judging someone because they used a partcular phrase seems as shallow as thinking of people as sheep.

  14. I think it's about being who you are and not feeling bad about who you are. A tiger/lion/wolf doesn't feel bad about being who they are. Just like the story of the scorpion and the frog. If you eat sheep because of the rules of nature, you don't give any thought to their opinion of you.

  15. Wow, you articulated your frustration with the quote so eloquently! A little late, but I completely agree with your opinion. People who post lines like this will never become better humans if they dismiss others' thoughts so snobbishly. There are certainly other ways to elicit confidence in people. The quote is just plain rude.

  16. Pathetic.

    You're nothing but a prententious bore.
    And I don't care.

  17. Hi Meeko,

    You obviously do care because you took the time to write a comment. Also, thanks for reading! Also, it's kind of funny to me that for an article where I essentially decry ignorance and pretentiousness you call me ignorant and pretentious.

    There are lots of ways to criticize this article, and me personally, but those seem to be the wrong words.

    Again, thanks fro reading!

  18. Hi Sean,

    Personally, you wrote my exact thoughts about this. I don't understand how this quote is so popular, it has never made sense to me. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

    One of the issues with our society, which has been made blatantly clear in a couple comments, is that we do not value others' opinions enough. Sure, there is the rare person that listens to what everyone has to say, and takes it all to heart. I'm sure that is who this quote is targeting; however, most of the people posting this do not have that issue.

    Again, thank you so much for writing this!

  19. A sheep represents a 'small person', a small person being someone who never takes the high road. Therefore it is easier for you to be the 'bigger person' or a wolf and just ignore what the sheep is saying to try and bring you down. At least that's how I interpret it, and that's why I love this saying

  20. Thank you for your thoughts. What's ironic is that the people who make this statement, are the 'sheep' whose complexes we moral people should be avoiding; they're just poisonous to society. You don't know how much this post has helped me; I've really made the effort to stop these people from treating others like crap. In the end, consideration for everyone's thoughts will win.

    I've been wondering - what inspired you to write this post? Was it a specific person or incidence? Or was it just general annoyance with this mindset?

    1. I just saw this quote everywhere. I follow a lot of fitness bloggers and entrepreneurs. Many of them (frequently) post quotes like this on their social media pages, and it bugs me. I respect the hell out of people who are self-motivated and who strive to be the best versions of themselves, but I think there's a point where that can become kind of toxic. Specifically, when you reach the point where you start feeling like you are superior to other people, or even worse, that certain people are... less human than you- I think at that point self-confidence actually becomes toxic and dangerous.

  21. I really think you didn't get the real meaning of the phrase, it is not about feeling superior to others, it is about not letting others opinions change your ideas, ambitions or the things you think you can do, either because they don't think you can or they don't want you to.
    It is a motivational quote to perssue your dreams and accomplish your ambitions whatever they are and despite all the people who doubt you can do them.

  22. I do believe this phrase is about being superior and not letting those of lesser ability bother you. And why is being better at something a bad thing? Should Usain Bolt worry about others criticizing his running form? I don’t think so…
    Maybe it is the arrogance of the statement that bothers you…
    I am actually one of those people who consider myself the "predator" and most other people "sheep". I do believe (with much proof) I am better than most people... My will to accomplish, my ability to think, and my ability to do, are just far greater than the average person. I use my abilities for the betterment of those around me, should I stop because you consider me arrogant?
    I do not let Criticism bother me in the slightest. Why should I?
    All Hail the Lion!

  23. Thank you Anonymous April 27 2015, 10.02 for making some sense of this debate. If you strive in this world, or if you excel, you will win detractors. While the language of calling people sheep appears insensitive, don't focus on the literal words but think about the message. They invite the reader not to focus their attention on detractors and to continue to strive for excellence. Put another way, you cannot be all things to all men, and if you excel this applies all the more. Without people who do this, life would be dull indeed.

  24. The quote is about approval the reason lions and tigers were chosen with sheep is because they make no sense this is because it makes no sense to have to have someone else approval for something you want you shouldn't need someone else approval to do something you want/need just as a lion or tiger wouldn't need a sheep's approval you can look at this quote many ways just as with most quotes the meaning of most quotes change from person to person if the true origin is lost to a quote it is quite hard to determine its true meaning and especially when there are different versions used often