LTC Dave Grossman, The First Sheepdog

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath–a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.

LTC Dave Grossman, US Army (Ret.), in the essay “Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs,” from the book On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace (2004).

In any discussion of everyday carry, of being prepared for contingencies (actual contingencies, not the doomsday fantasies of survivalists), and law enforcement, David Grossman casts a long shadow. Grossman, a retired US Army Ranger, professor at the United States Military Academy (West Point), and psychologist, first coined this analogy in his 2004 book On Combat. (As an aside, On Combat and its predecessor, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society are brilliant books, and worth reading.) This article talks about how Grossman came up with his theory of what I will call the sheepdog mindset.

Grossman’s work in On Killing and On Combat came as a reaction to the work of Brigadier General S.L.A. “Slam” Marshall, who claimed to have studied the ratio of fire of combat soldiers in a work entitled Men Against Fire (Marshall’s truthfulness in this study and others has been questioned by many historians and combat veterans, including journalist and retired Colonel David Hackworth, who said Marshall “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”). Marshall asserted that 75% of combat soldiers failed to shoot at the enemy while taking fire.

Later historians debunked Marshall’s claim (PDF), arguing that he never did the underlying research he claimed to have done. Grossman did not address the allegation but instead looked at what was the sort of mental preparation required to get a soldier, Marine, law enforcement officer, or citizen to defend the lives of others in a crisis.

Grossman’s work has been remarkably influential. The film American Sniper references Grossman’s sheepdog essay, as does the popular blog The Art of Manliness. In perhaps a sea change of popular opinion since the police shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere, Grossman’s work has come under fire and been impliedly accused of supporting racism.

Regardless of the logic of attacking Grossman for actions he had no control over, his essay in On Combat represented a change in how many first responders and civilians thought. Grossman’s essay about sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs started a discussion about tactical equipment, about what it meant to get ready for the day, and the danger of complacency (which Grossman describes as denial).

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: You didn’t bring your gun; you didn’t train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by fear, helplessness, horror and shame at your moment of truth.

Grossman, Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs

Too often people engage in “all or nothing” thinking about public figures and argue that, because someone’s legacy is tied up in bad actors or bad actions, then all of that person’s efforts are invalid. Grossman opened the door to the discussion of what does it mean to be ready for an emergency. For those with the training, either as first responders, service members, trained and motivated civilians, or veterans, Grossman was creating a call to action to be ready to do good, in both mindset and equipment.

How to create a commonplace book with Bookcision and Day One

 Using Kindle, Bookcision, and Day One for maintaining a Commonplace Book.png

While there is no ideal method of reviewing your work, I find that I like to experiment with different processes. In the past, I talked about using Google Forms to maintain a commonplace book. Another option for doing this is to use a combination of Kindle (whether for a particular piece of hardware or the web version), Bookcision, and Day One to create a Commonplace Book that, due to Day One’s ability to recall when you uploaded notes, regularly appears for review.

With Evernote slowly sliding into obsolescence, I began looking for an alternative that could handle note-taking. I had already been using Day One for journaling, and reasoned that it could actually work as a primary notebook solution that did not require an astronomically-priced subscription service (at the time of this writing, Evernote costs $69.99 per year. I purchased Day One before it became a subscription service, so I do not need to pay for multiple notebooks (although I prefer to use tagging to separate my notes). I question whether I would recommend this method to those who have to pay the subscription price, but I suppose that’s a personal choice.

For me, one of the most significant challenges to assimilating knowledge from books is remembering to use that data regularly. Repeatedly reviewing material has a definite value when it comes to gaining knowledge. The benefits of repeated review are part of the reason why I considered this process concerning learning from books.

The process works under the following conditions:

  • books are read on Kindle;
  • Bookcision is used to obtain my notes and highlights;
  • My notes and highlights are copied into Day One;
  • Notes and highlights are categorized based on the four primary categories I use for all data, along with relevant sub-categories; and,
  • I use the “On this Day” function in Day One to review past journal entries, including books.


Productivity Tip for Small Business

My Kindle notebook


When reading in the Kindle ecosystem (i.e., on the web, in an app, or on an actual Kindle device), all notes and highlights are stored in the Kindle Notebook. When I finish a book, I go to the Kindle Notebook page and use Bookcision (instructions for installing the Bookcision bookmarklet can be found here ) to download truncated versions of all notes and highlights from the book, which I then copy and paste into Day One.


Productivity tip for Entrepreneurs


Note: This is not a perfect system. Amazon only allows truncated downloads from the Kindle Notebook page, but I do not need an exact copy of everything I highlight. What I need is a reference to my ideas so that I can go back and review things. The ideas are cues or starting points.

Once the material is copied into Day One, I categorize with tags as follows:

  • Author Name
  • Book Title
  • Categorical Tag, i.e.,
    • Business
    • Household
    • Health
    • Community
  • Sub-Category (this is more specific to the book’s topic, and could really fit within any category used by, say, the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress Catalogue)


Productivity tip for small business owners

An example of a Day One Book Entry

Additionally, if someone wanted to keep track of all things read, say, in a particular year or month, they could add chronological tags.

Each day, as part of my writing routine, I review past notes using Day One’s On this Day feature. As works I have read in the past are dated, they eventually come up once per year, so that I have an opportunity to review things I learned in the past, and the knowledge is less likely to degrade completely.