Don’t Be Cattle


My Momma was a rebel. She refused to “go along to get along” and compared people who do that to cattle, because they just follow each other around, nose to ass.

“Don’t be cattle,” she would say. “If you’re too lazy to think for yourself, you’re just following the ass in front of you straight into the slaughterhouse.”

Momma didn’t mind making the occasional scene. Once, when she was paying for groceries with a check (remember checks?), the clerk asked for her driver’s license and Social Security number. Momma wasn’t having any of that.

“Why do you need to know my driver’s license number?” she asked. “What are you going to do with it? If my check is no good, what is my driver’s license going to do for you? Get the manager over here!”

That poor clerk.

She actually won that battle. On the way out of the store, she winked at me and said, “Don’t be cattle.” To her, acting like cattle was the worst indictment of someone’s character. She believed in independent, critical thinking.

She honestly didn’t understand why the grocery store clerk needed her driver’s license number (let alone her SSN), and so she wasn’t going to unquestioningly give it to him. (I now know why they do that, because driver’s license numbers can help businesses identify and track down those who write hot checks, but I was a kid at the time, and that was well above my pay grade. Nevertheless, Momma was having none of it.)

One of my favorite TV shows is ABC’s “What Would You Do?” The host, John Quiñones, uses hidden cameras and actors to put ordinary people in moral dilemmas in which they can either take action or “mind their own business,” situations like a waitress being harassed by her boss or a drunken valet trying to park cars. He will also tweak the scenarios by changing the race, gender, dress, etc. of the actors to see whether that changes bystanders’ actions. It’s riveting TV, and it makes you confront your own hidden biases and willingness to be uncomfortable.

Momma would have been a sensation on that show. If someone needed help, wasn’t being treated fairly, or was being hurt, she wasn’t a “mind your own business” kind of lady. Once, she saw a young woman being berated and mistreated by her male companion. Needless to say, she did not mind her own business.

It’s easier to avoid confrontation and mind our own business, but that’s not always the right call. Momma raised me to think critically and step in when needed. I’m not afraid of being uncomfortable, and I have Momma to thank for that.

So, take it from Momma: Don’t keep your nose in the ass of the cow in front of you, or you might end up as a double cheeseburger.

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