By Prof. Enrique Soriano
Where did the name Black Sheep originate?
The negative sense of the term “black sheep” refers to a troublemaking family member who doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of your family members. Merriam-Webster defines it as a disfavored or disreputable member of a group. Other definitions point to an outcast, a disgrace to the family, or someone who just doesn’t seem to belong. The origin of the phrase, however, refers to lambs with darker coat colors: grey, brown or black. Since their wool cannot be dyed, the sheep with darker coats end up being culled as they are viewed as less commercially viable.
In my work in Asia and the West, I got the chance to deal with free-spirited individuals unfairly accused of being misfits. In reality, they are just freethinkers, opinionated, more adventurous, and risk-takers than the rest of the family. Their values and lifestyle may set them apart, but deep inside, I sensed that they often face personal struggles that other family members have not experienced and thus cannot understand. But try as they may, they just couldn’t blend in.
To ascertain if you or a family member might be a black sheep, you can quiz yourself with the questions below:
- Can you control your temper, or do you have a short fuse?
- When you were young, did you have a history of conflict with friends and family?
- Do you prefer working on your own and not being supervised?
- Do you have fewer friends now than 10 years ago? Do you sense that your friends are avoiding you and vice versa?
- Do you have on-file a criminal complaint or record? How about conflict with the police?
- Do you have a history of drug abuse or gambling addiction?
- Do you currently experience an unstable relationship with your spouse/partner/children?
- Do you have a hard time controlling your cash flow?
- Are you spending beyond your means? Do you have an extravagant lifestyle?
- Were there situations where you had to seek help due to financial problems?
- Do you have a history of mental instability?
- How is your relationship with your parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, or cousins? Are there ongoing conflicts with the family and/or your relatives?
- How is your work in the family business? Do you follow the rules, or do you prefer to work outside the rules set by the company?
- Do you sense some discomfort from your family and relatives when you are around? Are they avoiding you? Would they (or you) prefer that you do not join family gatherings?
- Are your religious and political beliefs and personal values significantly different from that of your parents and siblings?
- Do you have plans to sell your interest (shares) in the family business someday?
So are you a black sheep family member, or do you have one in the family? We have to acknowledge that some “black sheep” family members are not necessarily bad, just different. And sadly, in most cases, they are unfairly ostracized, misunderstood, and marginalized. In the course of my family governance work, I have had many opportunities to deal head-on with “black sheep” family members and I must admit, tagged “black sheep” members are indeed quite a character. A mix of extroverts and introverts, many of them are brilliant and creative, others sensitive, and some are just individualists or lone wolves. So you see, and I’d like to emphasize this again: being unique from the pack, they are not as bad as portrayed; they are just different.