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So Aunty, So What?

Published: Wednesday January 28, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday January 28, 2015 MYT 8:46:21 AM

The sheep really gets my goat

THIS is the Year of the Yang. That’s the word in Mandarin for “a ruminant mammal, generally with horns on its head”.

To the Chinese, yang can refer to either sheep (mianyang) or goat (shanyang), so therein lies the confusion as to what animal is the eighth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. To the Japanese, it’s the Year of the Sheep, to the Vietnamese, it’s the Goat, for the Koreans, it’s the Ram. The Chinese don’t mind either one.

But after a tumultuous Year of a runaway wild Horse, which would be a better animal for the year ahead? Let’s take a look at the characteristics of both cud-chewing critters, starting with the sheep.

According to David Murray in his essay, 12 Characteristics of Sheep, this is one stupid animal.

“I don’t know what sheep would score in an animal IQ, but I think they would be close to the bottom of the scale. They seem to only know how to do one thing well – eat grass (and produce more grass-eating sheep).

“It’s possible to know little, yet not be foolish; but not if you are a sheep. They are so irrational. You watch them as they pause in front of a stream. They know they can’t jump it or swim it. So what do they do? They jump in any way!” writes Murray, a pastor who got to know the animal well after 12 years in the sheep-infested Scottish Highlands.

Another characteristic is being slow to learn. Murray cites the example of a sheep getting caught in barbed wire while trying to break through a fence. Instead of learning from that painful lesson, it will do it again and again. That’s why sheep are dependent creatures, requiring close supervision by their shepherd, he adds.

Granted, scientists say new research shows sheep to be as intelligent as monkeys. But it will take a great deal more to change the long-held perception of this creature as being not just woolly on the body but in the head, too.

After all, we think “sheep” when it comes to mindlessly following the crowd, or for imitating what others do without understanding why.

Murray describes their behaviour thus: “When one sheep decides to start running, they all decide to start running. If you were able to ask one, ‘Why did you start running?’ it would say, ‘Well, because he started running.’ The next would say the same. And the next one. And when you got to the last sheep he would just say, ‘I dunno’.”

Goats, on the other hand, are described by animals.pawnation.com as “independent, intelligent and tolerant of interaction in general”. In other words, they don’t spook easily and don’t bunch together to graze.

The goat is also seen as a nimble, agile animal who can take on hilly terrain with ease. It’s even associated with determination for its ability to climb mountains and trees.

Because they are curious creatures, goats will try out new things and explore the unfamiliar – usually with their hyper-sensitive lips and tongue – and often end up chewing and eating strange stuff.

While the male goat is a symbol of virility and stamina, the female goat is a symbol for nurturing and nourishment. Which is why someone entrusted with looking after young children is called a nanny, which is a female goat.

After all that, which animal would you prefer for the Year of the Yang? My pick is the goat, for all the reasons I have listed.

We have enough of sheep-like behaviour from people who are spooked easily by certain groups and individuals using loud and intimidating tactics. What’s more, after being spooked, these people blindly and unquestioningly accept those noisy pronouncements and exhortations.

We also don’t need people who, like sheep, stick to their own kind, or harbour irrational fears and suspicions against their fellow citizens. Being more goat-like by mixing around and interacting with others is what we need more of in our society.

Neither can we afford any sheep-like slowness to learn and respond to the ever-changing socio-economic environment within and without the nation.

We can’t forever depend on a super shepherd (aka the Government) to think for and look after us. That has led to what we know as the crutch or subsidy mentality.

Of course Billy Goat has his critics too. Among Christians, being a sheep is preferable to a goat as the latter is depicted as devious and insincere in the famous parable about separating sheep from goats in favour of the sheep. There is also the view that goats are too independent and unpredictable to be good followers, unlike the mild and meek sheep.

Indeed, a citizenry can happily be meek and mild if there is a good shepherd who takes care of all its needs.

But this is not the time for meekness and mildness, but rather for fearlessness and fortitude.

We need to have both qualities if we as a nation are to hold fast against forces bent on tearing apart our multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious fabric. And if we are to compete on the global economic front, we need the goat-like sense of inquisitiveness and boldness to be innovative and explore new possibilities and ventures.

Critically, in such challenging times, we need leaders who are like mountain goats who can nimbly guide us on the rocky path ahead, and not silly sheep that jump into water without knowing how to swim.

All this will require a lot of ram-like determination and stamina – if not virility – from leaders and citizens. So I say “Welcome, Goat”, and may you goad us to greater heights!

> Aunty discovered that a possible explanation for the idiom, “really gets my/your goat”, which means something that really infuriates you, involves the olden-day practice of using goats as companions to racing horses to keep the latter calm. Hence, taking away the goat could upset the horse and affect its performance in a race! Feedback to junewong@thestar.com.my

Tags / Keywords: Year of the Goat, sheep, leaders

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