As a writer, I know a lot about villains and the most important thing is they’re not limited to one type. There’s a whole spectrum of villainous personalities and motivations in fiction, and they often differ radically from one another. Some are predictable, or intensely focused on one thing (Voldemort in the Harry Potter series). Some are complex, surprising, and torn between their goals (Mrs. Coulter in The Golden Compass). Some aren’t villains at all, they just cultivate a persona for protection or mischief (The Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride).
In fiction, villains are fun to read about. They entertain us, say things the heroes aren’t allowed to say that nonetheless are true, and further plot and conflict in our stories. They mirror the obstacles in our lives, even if our obstacles are the much more boring version (an evaluation at work v. an evaluation at Hogwarts).
In life, villains are just as complex. Rarely is the evil coworker as simple as the “righteous” ones believe, and the schoolyard bully has problems of her own, too. Adding to the confusion, the situations real-life villains find themselves in are just as multi-faceted as they are. Some people gravitate toward the label. They take pride in being bold and brash, they say whatever comes into their mind, and they never stop to coddle the people they hurt along the way.
Maybe modern villains realize it’s impossible to be on everybody’s good side all the time. They try to enjoy playing the villain once in a while.
Then there are those of us who’ve tried their whole lives to be the hero. Honorable folk, people-pleasers, Hobbits. We avoid conflict at all costs so when we accidentally tell a friend something real they don’t want to hear, make a decision a family member doesn’t agree with or beat out a coworker for a promotion, we panic. The theme music changes, a spotlight is beating down on us, and instead of our Sunday’s finest we’re wearing two warts and a hunchback. We are the reluctant villains, and we might have a thing or two to learn.
It was only after I got pregnant with my son in 2017 that I began to realize the inevitability of villainhood. I was going to become my son’s villain at one point or another. I’d embarrass him, stymie him, disagree with him; no doubt do all of them before he even started school. I knew I was going to have to get over my need to be liked over being respected if I wanted to create healthy boundaries in my new family.
Several times last year the message repeated itself and I got better at being the villain each time because I understood, finally, that being a villain is a matter of perspective. It was a lesson I need to learn to be successful as a person and a business professional too, and I’m glad I learned it sooner rather than later.
Come time for my son and I’s first disagreement, I’ll be prepared to be unpopular. Have you ever played the villain in somebody else’s narrative? Is it easy for you to be disliked?