I think one of the toughest dilemmas I’ve faced and have observed others face is learning how to accept being the villain in someone else’s story.
As I’ve gotten more into storytelling, I’ve started to notice the narratives I create on a daily basis and the narratives of those around me.
Stories are powerful. And growing up in an era with movies that perpetuate the narrative that there exists a villain vs. hero and a “bad” vs. “good” looks at life through a very much unrealistic, binary lens.
Not only is this dynamic unrealistic, but our definition of what it means to be a hero is flawed. Heroes in stories are often portrayed as the all nice, people-pleaser who self-sabotages at the attempt to save the world and avoid conflict. Villains are often portrayed as the all evil, motivated by selfish desire and malicious intent to take over and cause havoc on the world.
They may be entertaining, but these narratives do such a disservice to the nuances of reality that actually exist. What do you do then if someone engages in destructive behaviour with seemingly good intentions? Does that make it okay? How about if someone’s being nice at the expense of their mental or physical wellbeing? Should we continue to encourage that?
Looking at life through a binary lens can make the decision-making process easier, but a lot more flawed. Because more often than not, these nuances exist. And negating the nuances that exist can keep people stuck in cycles of destructive behaviour and relationships: Because they still have good intentions, right? And I have good intentions, so I’m not going to change.
It’s not uncommon to struggle with boundaries, especially if you come from a culture that is more collectivistic. Boundaries may seem rude. We may feel guilty or challenged by the thought of setting boundaries. And we may fear being seen as the “villain” for having set a boundary.
But there’s a huge difference between being nice and being kind. We’re taught to be nice, but we would benefit a lot more by being kind.
Nice is something we do as an obligation, a polite gesture to make sure not to ruffle up any leaves. Nice doesn’t do that much good for the giver or the receiver. Nice is passive. Nice enables. Nice causes resentment and emotional exhaustion. Nice is most concerned with being liked.
I believe we would immensely benefit by changing the narrative of what it means to be a “hero.” Because the hero is also a villain in someone else’s story.
Let’s learn to be more kind. Kind is clear and communicative. Kind is genuine. Kind is willing to ruffle the pile of leaves to stand with the truth. Kind has healthy boundaries. Kind is willing to speak up, even when it stretches the social fabric of group norms. Kind is most concerned with being kind. That, to me, is what defines a hero—if there even is one.