“Haters gonna hate. Villains gonna villain.
Breakers gonna break. Killin’s gonna kill ‘em.”
What if I told you that the best way to fight evil is to let it happen? Would you say I’m stupid? Crazy? Would you argue that evil will consume the world unless good people do monstrous things to stop monsters? What if our traditional views on heroism and justice are actually creating a bigger villainy problem?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to save people. When I’m in a big crowd, I’m watching out for trouble and waiting for my chance to jump in and help. When I drive, I’ll actively use my own vehicle to slow down aggressive/dangerous drivers. I once chased down a guy on foot that stole some shoes. That superhero complex fuels me now as I try using my words to help people.
My superhero complex has grown from a natural disdain for villains. (For two years, I seriously considered becoming a real-life superhero, fighting crime on the streets.) I have a stomach-turning, nerve-tightening disrespect for people who actively endanger or hurt others. I find willful violence to be sickening and atrocious–even if it’s done in subtle ways. Texting while you drive, smoking around children, leaving pets unattended in hot cars. So, I have a natural tendency to go out of my way to right wrongs, and that’s taken a toll on me over the years. I’ve laid awake often, shocked up by wartime nightmares, wondering: is this what being a good person is supposed to feel like? Am I even making a difference?
The truth is: heroism is exhausting and destructive. It also might be doing more harm than good.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wondered: is it really true that evil proliferates when good people do nothing, or is that just a catchy slogan that encourages warfare? Could heroism just be a way to justify malice? Is it possible that wanting to beat villains is just as bad as being a villain?
Maybe we’ve been defining heroism the wrong way. Maybe heroism is having the courage to let villains be villains.
Woah. Hold up. He said what? What about murderers and rapists and warmongers? Fuck evil.
I agree. And please, don’t get me wrong. I recognize that villains hurt people. That’s what they do. I spent six years of my life professionally hunting them. It’s hard not to hate them. And, as a person who desires peace and happiness for all, I believe we all have a duty to prevent villainy. Mostly because everyone deserves a second chance. But, also because a rehabilitated villain can be incredibly useful to stopping other villains in the future. We should all do our part to step up and say, “Hey! What you’re doing is hurting people and here’s why that’s important.” We should try to recognize everyone’s ability for useful, positive contribution. We should also try to recognize that a lot of villainy comes from pain and loneliness.
But you know what? Second chances must be taken just as equally as they must be given. We certainly shouldn’t be afraid of villains. But we shouldn’t be killing ourselves waging war on evil, either. Truthfully, villainy is its own worst enemy. It will always crush itself. Real, impactful heroism—the stuff of real life, not of comic books—is about letting the weight of villainy befall the villain. It’s about shaking your head and saying, “I tried to warn you, evil dude.”
Criminal trial, imprisonment, loss of friends and family, isolation, rejection, loneliness, failure. These are all universal punishments for a life lived willfully evil. We should make an attempt to save villains from these terrible fates. No one deserves this stuff. But if we can’t save them? Let the villainy consume them. Being truly heroic means providing the villain a choice: stop being a villain or suffer the consequences. Because there are consequences. Live by the sword and die by it, they say. Life will equalize the actions of bad people.
Just last night, I was talking about this with a close friend. She brought up a real-life example that totally refreshed my outlook on this topic. It also gave me faith. I hope it does the same for you, because I think it’s brilliant.
She—we’ll call her Jill—was dating a really abusive guy. Mental abuse, physical abuse, police visits. The whole thing. She spent months trying to fix this guy and help him overcome his demons, but found no success. Things just kept getting worse. Jill was Batman—reacting to the Joker’s heinous crimes over and over. Nothing changed, no matter what she did or how she tried. Jill eventually found herself staring down a difficult choice. Did she leave this dude and just let him rampage on to the next unlucky person, or did she keep fighting and risk her life to help him get better? If he got better.
She chose to leave, even knowing this guy would probably go out and do more harm to other people. When I asked her how she felt about those future potential victims, she said, “It’s up to them.”
Damn. That sounds harsh. But when you really sit back and think about it, that is the epitome of being a superhero.
Jill meant that everyone has a decision to make. Villains and victims alike. Just like she did. When people encounter this villain in the future, they will have to make their own decisions. They’ll either choose to learn from his villainy or be consumed by it. Regardless of what warnings Jill offers or what measures she takes to tip people off, those people will make their own decisions on their own terms. It always comes down to the individual.
And it’s not like Jill hasn’t tried to help. She spent months of her life putting herself in harm’s way to fix this guy. It didn’t work. So, she cut herself loose.
Jill now lives a very happy life. She’s with the man of her dreams, living out her purpose, and she’s found peace. She smiles all the time. Reflecting on this villain in her life, Jill has come around to the idea that he was necessary in order for her to find happiness. She had to go through that whole thing in order to learn the power of personal choice, and she sees letting him go as empowering future people to learn the same lesson. Hopefully, she thinks, this guy’s villainy will ultimately do more good than harm. And eventually, he’ll either learn from it or die a lonely, broken person. His choice.
Jill didn’t send her abusive ex into the world with the intent to hurt others. She sent him out knowing that others could benefit from his terrible influence in the same way she did. Maybe he might even learn from his mistakes by seeing how people react to him. That’s… incredible.
I heard this story and it made me think about progressive research being done on cancer. See, normal cells stop reproducing when they touch other cells–this stops overgrowth. Cancer cells never stop growing. Cancerous tumors (clusters of cells that never stop reproducing) eventually get in the way of things like organs and inevitably cause shutdown. It’s terrible. But, some researchers believe they can use cancer cells for good purposes. What makes cancer destructive can also be used to prevent it. Cancer’s abilities can be harnessed and reversed, and new research suggests that we can actually fight cancer with cancer in much the same way we use antivenoms and vaccines!
Fundamentally, this approach is incredible because it identifies the positive side of a situation usually deemed negative. It’s the same as using former bullies in anti-bullying campaigns or listening to the experiences of former Nazis. Evil’s power can be wielded for good. Sometimes, that just means letting the villain go out and terrorize. That’s exactly what Jill did. She decided to let her abusive ex-boyfriend spread his evil so that others can learn to immunize themselves from him (and his kind).
Villains and toxic people cause pain. Yes, that is true. But, pain can be a good thing. Not only does pain remind us that we’re alive, but it’s a powerful motivator. It encourages and strengthens. It teaches lessons. The most beautiful things in life are preceded by difficulty. Birth is an incredibly painful process. Climbing Mount Everest is dangerous. Becoming an Olympic gold medalist requires hours upon hours of gruelling practice and sacrifice. My friend Jill has chosen to provide future people with the opportunity to grow through her abusive ex, even knowing that those people will experience pain. The heroic part is that she knows those people can become their own heroes thanks to the pain—a process much more powerful than risking her life trying to shield people.
This is a new kind of heroism. It goes against our traditional understanding, and it seems counterintuitive, but it is a better way toward peace. Allow the villains to villain and try not to feel guilty. Feel proud. The havoc they wreak will annihilate them and create even more heroes. Do what you can to prevent tragedy, of course. At a certain point, though, learn that it’s better for everyone to let the villainy take care of itself.
Be heroic, y’all. Stand up for yourself, stand up for others, and work to make the world a better place. Trying is what’s most important. Success will organically result from the effort. Give those villains the option to rehabilitate. You owe them—and the rest of us—that much. But do it once. If it fails, you go ahead and let that villain rampage through Gotham.
Will there be hurt? Yes. Will lives be affected? Absolutely. But, in the end, all the people of Gotham will learn to protect themselves, rather than relying on one tired hero. Eventually, every citizen of Gotham will be Batman and the Joker will be fucked.
I love you all. You’re all heroes. You just might not know it yet.
Ronin is learning that real heroism isn’t about punching bad guys—it’s about NOT punching bad guys. You can find his writings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress. Check out his YouTube channel for neat videos.
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