Unravelling the Black Sheep

Personal Change and Possibilities

Enabling clients see their own value can often be part of the work when working with clients as they reposition themselves within changing environments. Part of the work can be around exploring the essence that people bring, their values and what sets them apart, not just as employees or business owners, but really as people. The importance of this clarity came to mind recently as I participated in a MIT Theory U programme based on the work of Otto Scharmer when we were posed the question ‘Who is myself and what is my work?’

Linked with this thought is my own experience of finding something in the midst of some spring cleaning. Recently I came across some hand spun yarn we had created from the fleece of a black sheep we had on the farm several years ago. This sheep, a rogue occurrence in a ‘normal’ white flock became a focal point for a time as we remembered the old Irish Proverb: Ná díol caora dhubh, ná ceannaigh caora dhubh, agus ná bí gan caora dhubh. This translates into : Never sell a black sheep, never buy a black sheep, never be without a black sheep.

The term black sheep has been used throughout history to describe the one person who has strayed into inappropriate areas, indulged in behaviour unbecoming etc. I recall the words of Steve Biko, the South African activist, from a report of his trial regarding the negative and derogatory connotations that are often associated with the term ‘black’ and how he found the term derogatory. We use black to describe times of hardship, low levels of thought, black days, black dogs etc.

We kept the wool from the black sheep and intended to have something made from it, however, it slipped from our minds until recently. Upon rediscovering it and teasing out the mixture of the fibres that it contains I was struck by its integrity, authenticity, and by the fact that it was not just black. I recall the fleece being shorn and as it fell off the sheep the underside of the fleece became exposed for the first time. Here one could see browns, greys, flecks of white, ochre and earthy colours that link so closely to nature. The black sheep was not just black but multi coloured in a unique and intriguing way.

What is interesting for me is that we kept the black fleece, it is the one that we choose because it was different. When we unravelled the wool we discovered new colours, new possibilities and potential. In many respects we didn’t see the value in the black fleece until we unravelled it and we rediscovered that value again recently.

Sometimes we feel detached from the flock, sometimes we question the norms, or we stand out because of ‘difference’. Our challenge is to explore the question ‘Who is myself and what is my work?’ The black sheep has value, the black sheep is often the one to be noticed more. In that noticing it may be useful to go a bit deeper and unravel the essence and value that is contained within. What hidden colours and offerings have we to show the world if we allow ourselves the possibility to tease out our layers and shine a light on our core?