Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sheep of Panurge

One of my favorite readings from primary school is the story of “The Sheep of Panurge.” I must have been 9 years old the first time I came across it in class and listened to my French teacher explain with a very serious tone the “moral of the story.”

It is basically the tale of a man on a boat who comes across another boat with a sheep merchant on board along with a herd of sheep. When the man purchases a sheep and finds the price unfairly high, he seeks revenge. So he throws the sheep in the sea prompting all the other sheep on the other boat to follow suit until all of them are in the water.

For the faint of heart, the story as I remember it does not say the sheep died so the children are spared the thought of what could have happened to the drowning sheep. There was always a hope in my heart that someone, somewhere, will step in to rescue all of them after all of us have learned the lesson behind the text and recited it to Madame Clotilde’s satisfaction.

I remember giggling hard at the imagery of the unassuming sheep that followed each other, screaming and bleating in the same monotonous tone, out of the boat and into the water. Bah Bah Bah even now I can picture a sheep rushing to its death exactly as the one before him and the one before her all the way to the cattle leader.

Strict Madame Clotilde did not find the tale funny at all. She explained to us that the moral of the story is that the sheep have no intelligence whatsoever and so they just follow blindly even if the sheep at the head of the line is leading them to their certain demise. It was a story to teach us about “following blindly.” Following anything or anyone blindly! To this day, I live by the lessons learned in that short text. Madame Clotilde would be proud of this student. Don’t do as the sheep did, don’t imitate others without a good reason, be skeptical, and question people’s motives before you line up behind them. Ask yourself, “Do I belong here?” Question and challenge others before you jump!

In the Panurge story, once the herd got into this frenzy, they could not be stopped despite all the efforts of the shepherd.  They simply filed a line of mass suicide on the tunes of their simple-minded bleating and on they marched, martyrs of their genetic stupidity and lack of judgment. They hurriedly followed a line of sheep into the sea as if to ensure they are not outdone in their empty-headedness by their leader and every sheep in the line thereafter.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the similarities between this ancient tale and our modern-day reality. Leaders treat us like sheep and they try to manipulate us anyway they want. Many follow blindly and they excitedly bleat and scream as they go down. Sad to think they have no clue where they are being led or for what purpose. So, others watch them from a distance and like good shepherds they try to intervene to no avail. The herd is too loud and too committed to the blind line, nothing else matters to them. Certainly not those warning them or telling them they are on the wrong side of history.

The Sheep of Panurge and the unquestioning “followers” who don’t stand up and call wrongdoing, abuse or racism by their name, are one and the same. Except the sheep cannot be blamed, they were born without intelligence, they didn’t give it up over time!


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