Why Every Young Person Should Grow Up Wanting To Be A Villain
“Now, a person's faults are largely what make him or her likable…Preoccupation with self is good, as a tendency towards procrastination, self-delusion, darkness, jealousy, groveling, greediness, addictiveness. They shouldn’t be too perfect; perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting.” — Anne Lamott
It’s time to change the narrative and flip the script on the fairytale stories of princes and princesses.
It’s time to move away from the heroes and move towards the people that all of us can relate to in one way or another: the villains.
Because here’s the truth: as much as we may want to turn into a hero, we all start out as villains. And it’s time we, and our kids, embrace that reality.
Before I tell you why every young person should grow up wanting to be a villain, let me make it clear what this article is not.
This is not an endorsement for evil. It is not a call for young people to grow up with a total disregard for rules and authority.
This is not an encouragement for flagrant foulness. There is a difference between being a villain and being wicked.
And finally, this is not an excuse for letting young people totally off the hook. We still need rules and discipline and a push towards good growth.
When I say villain, I don’t mean a hateful, bigoted, destructive individual.
What I mean when I say villain is someone who is real. Someone who has both light and dark. Someone who has potential but wrestles with the temptations that pull them back into their old habits, old practices, and old tendencies.
I mean someone who knows what it means to be angry but doesn’t always give in to the anger. Someone who has dimension, who has felt heartbreak before and who has probably, at one point or another, lost.
Because in real life, you don’t always win. Villains know that.
Heroes and the perfection complex
I love the way that Anne Lamott described it when she said:
They shouldn’t be too perfect; perfect means shallow and unreal and fatally uninteresting.
Many young people grow up with heroes as their examples and role models. Whether it’s Prince Charming, Iron Man (may he rest in peace), or Moana, we tend to use heroes to hold up a mirror and say “this is who you should aim to be like.”
The problem with this is that most heroic stories are built on the larger than life characters, who may briefly struggle, but who ultimately win the fight, save the day, and prove their valor and goodness.
This isn’t me a pessimist. We do want our young people to grow up knowing that hope can overcome despair, that hard work does pay off, and that being good often can overcome the darkness.
But if you go through and tally up the record of all the heroic stories we show our kids, we start to see other aspects come through, namely: perfection.
You and I know that life is way more complicated than a 2-hour movie. It’s full of nuances and shades of grey. It’s full of nuance and words like maybe, sometimes, and hopefully.
When all we show our young people are examples of heroism, sometimes, we inadvertently set the bar too high. No one can be a hero forever.
I would rather our young people grow up to be real, not regal. I would rather they be perceptive, not just powerful.
We are drawn to redemption, not righteousness
I’ve been thinking a lot about why people seem to love those who rise from the ashes but are likely to turn their nose up at the person who always follows the rules.
I think it comes down to relatability.
Not everyone has a success story, but everyone has a story of difficulty, pain, and on some level, brokenness.
Here’s an interesting experiment.
What does your gut do when you read these descriptions: goody-two-shoes, teacher’s pet, know-it-all?
What about when you hear these descriptions: comeback story, underdog, rags-to-riches.
We like to cheer for the down-and-out because we see ourselves reflected in their stories, but when it comes to our characterization, we often put on a different mask to the world around us.
We like to look righteous, all the while, inside we’re craving redemption.
Deep down, everyone relates to the struggle of facing and fighting to overcome darkness. That’s real. The idea of redemption is the main unifier across any demographic.
No one really relates to the righteous. It might seem like the ideal situation, but give me a villain who knows his or her struggles over a pious and emotionally disconnected hero any day.
Embrace your weaknesses, don’t hide them
Heroes spend so much time seemingly avoiding their lurking evil, trying to cover up their mistakes.
Villains, on the other hand, know they are bad. That gives them the ability to embrace their struggles. And as any good counselor or AA participant would tell you, embracing the struggle is the first step towards doing something about it.
If we teach our kids to grow up and stuff down their struggles simply because they should look heroic, we’re going to end up with a lot of insecure, morally compromised young men and women.
Because no one is perfect, everyone has baggage. So the faster our young people are able to get that baggage out into the light and be real about it, the quicker they’ll be able to actually do something about it.
Not all villains turn, but all heroes fall
Here’s the final argument, and perhaps the scariest, for why our young people should grow up wanting to be a villain.
Most of us adults don’t want our young people to grow up to become villains because we’re afraid that once they start down that path of darkness, they might never make it back to the light.
I admit that is a valid concern.
However, here’s the catch. We all are moving forward in life. We’re either getting better or growing worse. There really isn’t such a thing as standing still.
If we embrace the idea that we are all villains to begin with and we understand that no one is perfect, then we give ourselves the option to grow upward, through our weakness, hopefully, one day standing victorious as real, imperfect men and women full of both light and darkness.
If we start off as heroes, at the top, seeking perfection, we really have no other direction to go but down.
Eventually, we all mess up. We all crack and fail and give in to temptation. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to get better and be good. It simply means that grow up rather than fall back down.
Toss the cape
So many young boys and girls will wake up today, don their capes and masks, and will run around the house pretending to save the world.
The world doesn’t need saving. We do.
If we never teach our kids how to be wrestle and fight through the darkness within their hearts, how would they ever be equipped to go out and save other men and women?
We don’t want to raise our young people to be evil. We want them to be real and relatable. We need them to know that perfection isn’t the goal and that heroism isn’t rooted in never making mistakes.
At the end of the day, we need more villains.