Good vs. evil is one of the most common tropes you’ll see in stories (it’s even got its own Wikipedia page!). There’s a good guy who has all the morals, an evil guy who has none of them, and the only outcome that seems to make sense is for the good guy to prevail. This is not usually regarded as a good characteristic of a story. Movie reviews will often make criticisms of how a villain was too one-dimensional. Every bad guy needs some kind of motivation. Otherwise, it’s just not realistic.
So then why do so many people seem to view the real world in this same, unrealistic, way? Just visit one of reddit’s many political subreddits, and it should take you about a minute to find highly upvoted comments that equate Trump to a villain in a bad movie. I did this myself, opening the first thread I saw: an article about COVID-19 and Trump. What I learned was that he really doesn’t care about people dying and he values his money far more than he values human lives.
Given that I’m from the bluest state in America, in one of the bluest counties in that state, what I said above probably doesn’t seem too unreasonable to most people I know. But how many academy awards is this movie going to win? Why is the villain in this story just a power hungry, hateful person that has zero valid reasons to be acting this way? In other words, Trump is evil… well, because he’s evil.
It’s not going to be easy to convince someone to empathize with Trump, so let me try to give a more relatable example. Think about the last time you had feelings of hate towards someone, especially someone who you no longer know. Think about some of the words you used to describe that person, in an attempt to justify their actions: maybe selfish, or arrogant, or my personal favorite, just simply an asshole. Now think about the last time you know someone has had feelings of hate towards you. What words did you use to describe yourself, to justify your actions? Most likely, the first set of words were pretty damn negative, and the second set pretty damn positive.
There’s only one for all this to make sense. You’re in the right, they’re in the wrong, and that’s that. So you’re good… and they’re evil. And if you keep talking about them, you might again start hearing the similarities to a very poorly written villain. It seems that we sometimes have more realistic expectations for movie villains than we do for people in real life.
This is not just about being kind to others. Think about the kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be filled with feelings of hate, or feelings of kindness and understanding? Many people will say that, of course they do not want to be filled with hate. But when they see all these things going on that are clearly wrong (e.g., Trump’s actions), how else are they supposed to feel?
Going back to my favorite metaphor of good vs. evil in a movie, it almost always ends the same way: the good triumphs by defeating the evil. Now come back to our example of your own good vs. evil story. How are you going to triumph over evil? Are you just going to wait for the day they finally have a change of heart and come around to your way of thinking? When’s the last time you’ve actually seen this happen? Real life is not a cliche movie. The only way you’re going to rid yourself of your feelings of hate is by understanding others, and the first step to accomplishing that is realizing that good vs. evil should really just stay in the movies.
End note: If any of the ideas here resonated with you, I strongly recommend two books: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Johnathan Haidt, and Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg. These books are where I got most of the ideas behind this post. They taught me that good vs. evil really isn’t a thing at all, and that accepting this fact leads to a happier life.