Joseph Campbell Goats and Tigers


If I were asked if I would rather be a goat or a tiger, my first ego response would be “Tiger. Of course I'd rather be a tiger.” Goats are clownish, have a herd mentality, can be stubborn–and of all the animals in the animal kingdom, goats inspire the term scapegoat. You bet, I’d rather be a tiger!

But if I were to answer based on my behavior and the choices I have made most of my life, I’d more honestly have to answer, “I’d rather be a goat.” I have to admit that most of my life I’ve wanted to be, tried to be and even fought to be a goat–fought to be part of the herd. Maybe because, growing up, my family moved every two or three years; I was perpetually the new kid in school, so most of my attention was focused, not on academics, but where I might fit in or, more correctly, wanted to fit in.

Jr. High/Middle school I landed in a tough suburban Denver neighborhood. At least it was tough for my shy introverted somewhat backward personality. My neighborhood and bus stop included some of the most popular cliquish girls in the school. My bus stop was also Claudia’s bus stop. Claudia liked to bother me and I tried my best to irritate her. I was jealous that she was one of the in-group and I wasn’t. She bothered me for months until out of jealousy, anger and frustration, I blurted out, “I choose ya!”–”Choose ya” being the neighborhood lingo for “Let’s fist-fight about it.” We agreed to fight on Saturday noon behind the elementary school.

This was a fight I had to win as I instigated it and if I lost, I really would be the goat of the school. So I went to my older brother asking him how to fight–how to fight like a man–how to fight to win. He showed me with clenched fist, left to the belly, uppercut to the chin. Left to the belly, right uppercut, I imitated. “Throw from the shoulder,” he said. Left to the belly, right uppercut, . . . ” The next three days I must have thrown a 1000 punches into the air.

Come Saturday, I finished my chores and was ready for the 20 minute bike ride to the elementary school in plenty of time for my fight date. But that Saturday, of all Saturdays, my father decided to de-thatch the lawn. Actually, my father decided his kids should de-thatch the lawn.

11:30 a.m. . . . there we all were, five kids, in a line, raking to the rhythm of entrapment. 11:45 a.m. . . . The lawn seems the size of a football field and we’re on our own 30 yard line. How do I tell my father I have a fighting engagement? 11:50 a.m. . . . There’s a phone call for me. It’s Claudia’s sister. She tells me, “Claudia can’t fight today, she’s going to the amusement park.” “Okay,” I say with exaggerated indignation. I’m incredibly relieved. I didn’t really want to fight Claudia, I just wanted to be part of her herd.

In my 20′s, I went to Arctic Alaska to meet and live among my father’s side of the family. My father was half Eskimo. While there, I lived a semi-subsistence lifestyle (under extended family tutelage) for several months in the village of Golovin. I desperately wanted to be one of them. I moved to Nome where I worked in the school’s Native Arts Program. Eventually, after five years in the Arctic, and although I loved it, I realized I was a suburban girl after all.

In 1998 I was asked to collaborate with a famous artist–an artist I studied in college. Her projects are large, requiring years of work by several technicians/artisans. I was one of those artists. It was very exciting. It didn’t take long, however, before I saw that her definition of collaboration was bully tactics, subtle threats and master manipulation. For a long while I didn’t say anything or challenge her. I let it go; after all, I was learning what it took to be a world class artist. I was ashamed of myself though when one afternoon I kept quiet as she humiliated a close friend and coworker. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to be rejected by the herd.

One day, like so many years earlier at the bus stop, I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t “choose” our famous artist leader, but I did call her on her behavior. It didn’t take long for her to manipulate me out of the project. One minute I was “in”, the next minute I was “out.” Suddenly it was as if I had never been a part of her herd after nearly two years in the project. It appears I had become a scapegoat when no one came to my defense.

The sense of betrayal put me into a depression. Once again I was outside the herd. How could I reconcile a lifetime of effort to be “in” with such demeaning results? I needed a world view to match my tough “outsider” experiences. I turned to a solo path and read numurous books, looking for wisdom. The most influential being:

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Riso-Hudson (Enneagrams)

Carolyn Myss (Energy Anatomy)

Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God)

Gary Zukav (Seat of the Soul)

Then I came across a story told by Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth) about tigers and goats. It goes like this:

There was a herd of goats eating grass in a valley. A pregnant starving female tiger approached the goats atop a nearby hill.

She pounced down on the goats, but overdoing it, she gives birth and dies.

The goats had scattered but when they came back, they find the baby tiger and raise it as their own.

One day, when the tiger was a teenager, an adult male tiger happens along.

He sees the young tiger and is appalled!

He goes to the boy and asks, “What are you doing among these goats?!!!”

The youngster replies, “Baaaah.”

The adult tiger shakes him then slaps him, “Snap out of it!”

He takes the youngster by the scruff of the neck, dragging him to a pond.

The pond is perfectly still. “Look,” he says to the boy, “you have a face like mine. You’re no goat!”

And the boy, indeed, sees for the first time, he’s NOT a goat.”

The older tiger takes the boy  to his den where he has a freshly killed deer.

He tells the boy, “Eat!”

The boy backs up and says, “But I’m a vegetarian.”

The tiger, loosing his patience, takes meat and blood and shoves it into the boy’s mouth.

The boy sputters and gags.

(Here Joseph interjects, “As we all do when we first hear the truth.”)

And it was here I realized: that boy tiger is me. All of my months and months of solitary reading was a call to tiger-hood. A call to leave the herd behind. But I felt I couldn’t be a tige as I didn’t believe I had the confidence or the courage. But I also knew that in order to BE and accomplish my goals, I had to abandon "goat-hood". I had to leave the herd behind. I started paying attention to people who would inspire my tiger nature.

When I read about Robert Redford, in an issue of INC., an article about a man who gracefully blended creativity and business; I said to myself, “Now there’s a tiger.”

When I watched a documentary on the artist Andy Goldsworthy, a man who dared to think he could earn a living playing with nature; I said to myself, “Now there’s a tiger.”

When I read about, listen to and watch Rosie O’Donnell, her energy and aggressive work for unpopular, politically incorrect, causes; I say to myself, “Now there’s a tiger.”

When I heard about the carpet manufacturer INTERFACE, their environmental concerns and Sustainable Strategies; I said to myself, “Now there’s a tiger.”

When I think about becoming a tiger, I say to myself, it will be a lonelier, harder climb from the grassy valley to the cave, but life must be, will be, “meatier” there. Besides, I have plenty of tigers out there to inspire my journey. I say to them, “Thank you.”


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