- Heroes and Villains
- December 17th, 2015
In one Christmas episode of “South Park,” Cartman tallied his “naughty” and “nice” lists for the year in hopes that he had done enough nice things to balance out all the naughty. Coming up short, he tries to count “brushing my teeth” as nice so that he can still get presents from Santa.
While brushing your teeth is certainly good for you, we’d have to all agree that it is not objectively “good”.
People like to describe good and evil in terms of how closely an action mirrors their prefered religious text, but I try to steer away from that. Choosing one religion as your measuring stick can cause a knee-jerk reaction from the faithful of other religions.
So how would you define good? Think about it a moment before reading mine. I’d be curious to know how similar they are.
Good: Helping a stranger with no promise of reward.
Was your definition similar? I like this definition because it cuts right to the heart of the matter and it excludes a few things where we, like Cartman, try to give ourselves more credit than we really deserve.
Helping your friends and family is great, but isn’t that expected of us? Isn’t that the job of being a friend, a brother, a mother? Or do you recall that time where a tree fell across the road and you helped a dozen other motorists pull it to the side of the road? You might be tempted to congratulate yourself for helping so many out, but really, weren’t you just working together to help yourself?
Sadly, by my own definition, I fall pretty short on naughty v.s. nice. I guess Santa owes me some coal this holiday season. Oh well.
While we’re talking about good, how would you define a “hero”? The media is so quick to use that word that it’s nearly lost all meaning.
Take a moment now to ponder it and see how different your definition is from mine.
Heroic: Risking something of great value to help a stranger.
I spent a lot of time thinking about good and evil before sitting down to write this piece and I was surprised at how much easier it is to say what good is than it is to describe evil! Perhaps this stems from being raised on cartoons that pitted the heroes against really ludicrous, two-dimensional villains.
How many times have we seen a nemesis that does evil things simply because he is evil? Does that make any sense at all? Does anyone, even the most “evil” figure in the news today, think of themself as evil?
In reality, most everyone thinks of themselves as one of the “good guys”. Everything else is just a matter of perspective.
I suppose that ISIS -- easily the most “evil” organization in the news today -- thinks that killing civilians is a small price to pay to accomplish their larger goals. We all make these trade-offs, even if ours are not as dramatic. Our military attacks a target when they judge that the risk to civilian lives is sufficiently low -- not zero. Heck, I drive to work, knowing full well that my car is contributing to the Earth’s pollution.
So what are your definitions of evil and villain? Do they differ from mine?
Evil: Satisfying your own needs without regard for others.
Villainous: Doing evil things.
The strangest thing about imagining evil in this context is that it turns one of our most cherished beliefs on its head. This may be hard to swallow, but bear with me for a moment.
One nearly universal belief we share is that newborn babies are pristine and pure. That we are all born innocent and that any evil traits we have as adults are things that we have picked up along the way. That this world is a filthy, evil place, and that if we aren’t careful, that it will rub off on us.
But I propose that reality is quite different from how we wish to view it. That, by my definition at least, infants are the most evil form of humanity. I’m not blaming them for anything, but we are all born at the peak of our helplessness. We are in that moment as needy as we will ever be. We are also incapable of helping others.
It is hard to explain the looks of shock and horror I receive when I suggest this. “That’s horrible!” people shout. “What an awful outlook on life!”
But is it?
Imagine for a moment just how I view the world… That we are all born evil, and then are immersed in a world full of wonder and good. As we grow, we learn how to be good. We learn to share. We learn that despite how much we might want something, that it may be wrong to take it. We learn that the people around us are just as important as we are, and that we mustn’t hurt them just to satisfy our desires.
True, some people fall short and don’t learn to be good growing up.
But thankfully, most of us do.