I’ve been doing a lot of wrestling lately with why, as a society, we have this need to make so many people villains. Basically, anyone who doesn’t agree with you is a villain. Anyone who does something you don’t like = villain. Someone offends me? Villain. Someone didn’t do what I wanted them to do? Villain. Someone did what I wanted them to do but not in the way I wanted them to do it…villain. Basically anything that doesn’t go my way, if there is a person I can blame for it, well, there a villain.
What’s up with that? What’s with our incessant need to make everyone a villain?
It’s a pretty basic story element. Most stories need a villain. Sometimes they’re blatantly bad, other times they seem to be doing what they think is best, it just so happens that what they think is best contradicts with the common good. In a story, the villains actions are important to move the plot along. Oftentimes without a villain, the story can get stuck.
A villain is by definition malicious and cruel. Their alliance is to evil not good. Their intentions are at best malicious at worst destructive.
Truth be told, there are villains. Throughout history there have been actual villains whose intentions were destructive and whose actions were cruel. But, truth be told, the number of actual villains differs greatly from the number of perceived villains.
You wouldn’t think that is true, however, by looking around us today. We have celebrity villains and personal villains. Why? Well, I think there are two reasons. Money & Excuses.
It should be noted that we are wired for story and good stories have villains. By design, villains are supposed to be things that go against God’s design. But, as with everything else in creation, the way God designed story to work has been hijacked by the rebellion.
How is money a reason for villains? The media uses the idea of defeating an evil villain as a reason to get you to tune in to their programming. For CNN the villain is President trump and the Republican party. For Fox News, the villain is Joe Biden (And President Obama) and the Democratic party. Even the local news stations have to create a good guy and a bad guy in the smallest of stories.
Like I said earlier, stories that don’t have a villain are hard to keep moving. So the media makes villains, (some big, some small) to keep the story going and to keep people tuning in. If you don’t tune in they don’t get paid. The more you tune in, the more they can charge for advertising dollars. Just like the media has been using fear to get us to tune in, they use villains to line their pockets at the expense of our sanity.
Of course this is an oversimplification. There are value systems at work behind every major media outlet that drive the organization. But, those value systems only serve as the scope through which they select their target villain.
Money (in part) explains our national obsession with villains. But what about our need to create villains out of people in our lives? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it. Not only have I seen it, I’ve experienced. I’ve made people to be a villain and I’ve also been made out to be a villain. Why do we do that?
This one goes a little bit deeper. And while I don’t have any real solid research, I do have a pretty solid theory. We need villains so we can be victims.
“Hold on, I’m not a victim. I don’t make myself out to be a victim!”
We may say we aren’t victims and that we don’t have a victim mindset, but most of us play the victim card in some way.
Sure, we all have things in our life that happened to us, things that were out of our control. In those cases, we’re victims. But, that doesn’t mean we’re victims in everything.
Here’s the kicker: if we’re victims, we have someone to blame. And if we can blame someone else, we don’t have to take responsibility for our own actions. Which means we never have to do the hard work of changing ourselves, admitting our failures and seeking forgiveness for the mistakes we’ve made. It’s far easier to find a villain to blame for our mistake or to justify our decisions than it is to admit we were wrong.
Let me explain. As a culture, we’re particularly drawn to new, shiny, enticing things. I would say we’re addicted to it, because we get hits of dopamine in the anticipation of something new and when we acquire it. And like any good addict, we also experience the let down when the high wears off.
So, we see something new that we either want to acquire or that we want to experience. We want to buy something or do something. Common sense and even rational friends will help us see that we don’t really need that thing. In fact, there may be good, logical and even theological reasons why the pursuit of this new thing would actually be bad for us.
But, we really want it. I mean, I want the Oompa Loompa now! We obsess over it. We find a thousand justifications for why we should buy it, why we should try it. Then we go back to those friends with our new justifications. Except they don’t get on board. What do we do?
We’re left with only two options. Follow their guidance or vilify them. Sometimes we listen but most of the time, we start to vilify them. It doesn’t happen overnight, but over time, we find more and more ways to not only justify why what we want is right – we find ways to justify why the people who disagree with us are not only wrong, they’re actually evil.
“I want an oompa loompa now!” and anyone who doesn’t agree with me must not love me because they don’t want me to be happy and having the oompa loompa is what will make me happy.
What do we do about this?
Well, first, recognition is a pretty important piece of the puzzle. We need to recognize when we’re vilifying someone because they don’t agree with us. Notice when you’re doing it and don’t let yourself go down that road.
LOOK! We have got to remember how to love and be in relationship with people who don’t agree with us! I have people in my life that I disagree with strongly and they disagree with me strongly about something. But I refuse to let that become a wedge between us. I didn’t used to operate this way. I used to drive wedges, not regularly. But there are a couple of places I can see where I did that unnecessarily. I will not do that anymore.
Second is: Love ≠ agreement. We can love people without agreeing with them on everything, even on major things. We can love people who disagree with us. We don’t have to vilify or make opponents out of people who think differently.
Third (& last), refuse to participate in vilification of others. Vilification is essentially a form of gossip. When someone we love doesn’t agree with us, instead of talking with that person about it, we talk to everyone else about them not agreeing with us, making them out to be the villain. We share the well manicured version of our side of the story, and shape their side of the story through our justifications. Making a villain out of someone simply because they disagreed with us.
I’ve talked a lot about Gossip over the years (here, here and here), but I recently heard a pastor describe it this way.
“…gossip is a form of pornography, because when you gossip you are essentially “undressing” a person, exposing things about them which are intimate, vulnerable and private — in order to get a cheap thrill out of them, and to gratify yourself by feasting upon them in your mind.“
“…when we gossip, we are objectifying a person — turning them into a thing in order to gratify yourself at their expense, without making a commitment to them.“
When I first heard that definition, I thought it was too harsh. But when you understand the way your brain responds to gossip and that your brain actually changes the way you physically see a person you’ve gossiped about (Read here)
But that’s not all, the University of Pravia conducted research on gossip and discovered that your brain releases Oxytocin when you hear or share gossip. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “cuddle” hormone. It’s the one that helps build intimacy between you and another person. But there’s a problem, it builds intimacy between you and the person you are gossipping with while changing the way you see the person you’re gossipping about.
Not only does vilification give us an excuse for our own action or inaction, when we share about the villain with others we get a nice little oxytocin boost in our brain to make us feel even better about it.
Recognize when you’re vilifying someone, understand it is possible to unconditionally love someone you don’t agree with (seems like the term unconditional should make that pretty clear, but you know…) and lastly, refuse to participate in the vilification of someone else.