Humanizing villains

There is a lot here.

I would say that one important benefit of humanizing villains is that it’s more true. We are all diverse and rich and have many sides to us. Some of the worst villains in history – and the ones who did the most horrendous things – were good fathers, husbands, friends, and so on. We are all infinitely more than what any, or all, labels or identities can capture.

Few of us are villains in our own story. We typically think we are doing the right thing. (Unless we have created an image of ourselves as a terrible person and do our best to live up to it.)

Whether someone sees us as a villain or not obviously depends on perspective. I think Simba the cat is cute, while the bird he is hunting will likely not agree. My neighbor with the noisy machines and the manicured garden likely thinks he is a good citizen, and I see the end of civilization in his mindset.

Humanizing the villains makes the story more interesting, whether we call it a story of reality or fiction. It makes it richer and more nuanced and there is more to explore and discover in and through it.

Humanizing the villain makes him or her more relatable. As the quote suggests, we can more easily see ourselves in the position and role of the villain. We realize it could be us, in another life, in another set of circumstances (as Sting says).

More to the point, the world is my mirror. I can take whatever story I have about anyone or anything or any situation, turn it to myself, and find genuine and specific examples of how and when it is true. I am what I see.

There is another sense I am what I see. My world is happening within me. It’s happening within my sense fields. What I am to myself – what a thought may call consciousness – forms itself into the world as it appears to me. My world is, in an immediate and literal sense, me. (And it always changes. It’s always new and fresh.) There is no separation. There is no “I” or “other” separation could come from.

Why would some not want to explore this? Why can it seem like a threat to humanize a villain? I assume that if we are used to a black-and-white view of the world, and casting some as villains and others (likely ourselves included) as heroes, it can be confusing to shift perspective. It may go against our subculture. It may require a big shift not only in our perception but in our life. Also, it would require us to find ourselves in the villain, which will dislodge our familiar identities and require us to find other and more inclusive identities. (None of which are what we more fundamentally are.)

The reality is that even if we try to make the world fit neat little boxes of villains and heroes, we still see ourselves as both. We see ourselves as heroes in some areas of life and some situations, and as villains in other areas of life and in other situations, whether we admit that to ourselves and others or not. The reason we do this is that it’s true and somewhere in us, we know it. We know all can be found in our life.

If I have resentment towards someone, I may see myself as a villain in that situation and area of life. Somewhere in me, a part of me says that having resentment is not kind, it’s not what a kind person would do, so I – sometimes secretly – see myself as a villain. If I squash a bug, I know that from the bug’s perspective, I am a murderer, and it’s true. If I eat meat, it’s the same. We know this. We know we – in some situations and some areas of life and from some perspectives – take on the role of a villain. So why not acknowledge it? If it’s already here, that makes more sense.

As we explore this, the labels of villain and hero, and really any other label, start to be recognized as labels and not much more. They are convenient pointers, at most.

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