Shoes to Walk a Mile In

Isn’t it interesting how, when we hear a story from the point of view of a criminal, we often find ourselves rooting for the criminal to succeed in acts we wouldn’t normally approve of? Or we suddenly have compassion and understanding for the villain of a story when we have deeper insight as to why they make the decisions they make? I think this is because once we allow ourselves to see life from another person’s eyes it is easier for us to have empathy for them. We see that a person is not entirely bad or entirely good, but rather, as someone who makes good decisions and bad decisions. We see that we are greatly affected by the environment around us, and the antagonists of certain stories may not actually be antagonists at all, but individuals who are hurting, uneducated, or disfunctional in a way that is out of their control at times. We take on their pain, their goals, their persona, and we see that we too are capable of villainous acts in the face of hardship.

I think, a lot of times, we view ourselves as the protagonist of the story. We are trying our best, working through challenges, achieving our goals, fighting for goodness. And then, when someone opposes us, we view them as the antagonist of the story. Someone to be overcome, someone to be defeated. I’d like to propose that, instead, it would be beneficial to view them as someone to be understood.

When we seek to understand, rather than to defeat, we see the underlying problems, the imperfections in our own thinking, in others’ thinking, and in the way ideas are communicated. When we slow down to try to perceive first, rather than to judge, we are better able to see the real issues at hand and then we end up making a better judgment in the end.

I’ve found that the people that looked like villains in my story at one time, were usually just flawed human beings just like myself. Once I got to know them we were able to relate, communicate and educate each other (a lot of what seems like “evil” is just a lack of awareness). Don’t get me wrong, the protagonist vs. antagonist themes are great in narratives, but probably really counterproductive in real life.

In other cases, I was not able to fully resolve certain issues because one or both parties were not emotionally equipped at the time to come to a resolution. And sometimes if a person repetitively engages in a destructive behavior, hanging around them will result in you engaging in similar behaviors (but that is another Good Practice article).

Back to devillifying:

Seeking to understand before making a judgment takes practice, a lot of times we don’t want to get to know someone we don’t like, or we don’t even know how to begin to relate to someone who is very different from us. But sometimes we have no choice but to interact with people we see as antagonistic. And in viewing them as the villain we will most likely end up causing OURSELVES a negative emotional experience, and we’ll waste time harping on their flaws rather than working on our own.

Think of reasons why they may be engaging in certain behaviors or why you feel a certain way about them. Are they in pain? Have they not been taught a better way to deal with their problems? Did they perceive something about you that was off putting? Start with finding even the smallest thing you can relate to them on. If you like a song they are listening to, tell them so. I am not saying “Kiss ass so they’ll like you”. But relating to them will help you BOTH feel less hostility, and you can move on to more productivity and positivity.

You are the protagonist of your own story. At times protagonists need to improve. At times they need to overcome evil. And at times they need to show other characters in the story how to love. The greatest stories are told when we master distinguishing between these circumstances.

Perhaps the best story is told when you decide you’re not the protagonist at all. But, a part of a force of protagonists.

Important Reminder: This piece is based off of anecdotal evidence (and some research from psychology classes I’ve taken, but I have not provided any resources). That means this advice is based off of practices that have worked for me personally, but may not work for everyone or in every situation. Please use critical thinking to determine if there is evidence to support that these practices are useful and healthy in your own life. And if there is sufficient evidence that any of the “Good Practice” suggestions made in this article are counterproductive or unhealthy, kindly disregard them.

This is a part of a series of Good Practice pieces that are revolved around ideas involving self-reflection and observation of our surroundings. These articles are a part of a project called “The Enthusiastic Agnostic”; the objective of this project is to explore important issues in spirituality and science and create awareness about them, you know, for fun.