Healthy Relationships

There’s no such things as ‘Sheeple’​

James Hourihan, Author

We’re a Social Species

Human beings are a social species.  We thrive on healthy relationships. It’s one of the reasons our courses focus on Healthy Relationships as part of the core values chapter. We are not the strongest or fastest creatures in the animal kingdom.  What puts us at the top of the food chain is our ability to band together and our ability to specialise.  In other words, human survival strategy in part comes from our ability to find enough similarity so that we can connect and create groups. We have entire regions of our brains dedicated to language acquisition and empathy. 


When we are prosocial, our body releases the hormone oxytocin. This reinforces ingroup bonding (Sapolsky, 2017). Ingroup bonding is associated with survival in a social species.  So, when we engage in an activity that has been conditioned to be associated with survival, our internal reward system rewards us by releasing a hormone referred to as dopamine (Sapolsky, 2017).  Human beings find pleasure and meaning through relationships.  We are geared for connection.  In Timian, our primary focus is on the creation, maintenance, and growth of healthy relationships.


The other major survival strategy of human beings is our ability to specialise.  We are tool users and problem solvers.  So, to develop the vast technology that we rely on today, we have had to honour diversity enough so that we can tap into the unique strengths and talents of individuals.  We have entire regions of our brain dedicated to logical thought and long term memory. This enhances our ability to specialise as tool builders. In short, human survival is a balancing act between solidarity and autonomy. 

Ingroups and Outgroups

Human society has grown to such an extent that in our specialisation, we often create ingroups that echo our own thoughts and beliefs back to us.  In other words, we do not just specialise in occupations, we also specialise in worldviews.  This means, during stressful times, we often rely on our ingroup bonding to help us to manage the stress.  

This is healthy.  However, an unfortunate occurrence is that oxytocin, the ingroup bonding hormone, also seems to reinforce pushing the outgroup further away (Sapolsky, 2017).  This process of pushing the “outgroup” away can be referred to as “othering”.  Basically, people sometimes bond with their ingroup by diminishing the outgroup.  This is an unhealthy coping strategy that uses the outgroup as a scapegoat for stress felt by members of the ingroup. One of the primary tools used to do this is language.  Language is powerful.  People have created entire systems of jargon based on “othering” people. 


Human service organisations do this by accident. For example, when a person being supported is referred to by their most challenging behaviour (“she’s a cutter”).  Sometimes language can even be dehumanising.  Oppressive regimes and others throughout history have used terms like “vermin”, “pigs”, “sheep”, or “sheeple”, when referring to members of a perceived outgroup.  This is dangerous because it allows one group of people to view another group as less than human.  This has historically been one of the stepping stones to the worst atrocities in history (Zimbardo, 2007).

Not Sheep

Lately I’ve seen a lot of people using the term “sheeple” on social media to describe people who subscribe to a different worldview than they do.  It’s dehumanising language, and it isn’t helping anyone during these conflicted times.  Sheep, like people, are a social species.  They do not specialise to any major extent like humans do.  Sheep are sheep and humans are humans.  There is no such thing as “sheeple”.  In the context of our Timian view on the importance of building healthy relationships, we would strongly advocate against such language and or branding. 

Today’s guest blog is by John Windsor a faculty member of Mandt Training Systems and a Senior trainer with Timian Learning and Development.

You can contact John via timian on

Sign up to our newsletter to receive our helpful learning resources for free

Further Reading From Timian