The negative sense of the term “black sheep” refers to a family member who seems to be the troublemaker, and doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of your family members. Merriam Webster defines a black sheep as a disfavored or disreputable member of a group. Other definitions point to an outcast, a disgrace to the family or someone that just doesn’t seem to belong. But the origin of the phrase refers to lambs with darker coat colors: grey, brown or black. Since their wool couldn’t 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 as misfits. In reality, they are just free thinkers, 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 make a quick Yes answer to some of the questions below:
Can you control your temper or 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 less friends now than say 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 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? Can you sense if they are avoiding you? Would they (or you) prefer that you do not join family gatherings?
* Are your religious, political beliefs and personal values significantly different from that of your parents and siblings?
* Do you have plans of selling 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, they are 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 dealing head-on with “black sheep” family members. I must admit, tagged “black sheep” members are indeed quite a character; many are brilliant, creative members, extroverts and introverts, others are sensitive and some are just individualists or lone wolves. But I want to reiterate, they are not as bad as portrayed, they are just different.