When Heroes and Villains are Born

Every hero and villain is born in the desert. Both, like the rest of humanity, are in as much control of the circumstances of their lives as a fly’s ability to cast Mars into another galaxy. They cannot control what happens in their lives, but they can control how they respond. Tragedy knocks at the door of both and throws them into the desert without their consent. Thus far, we have talked about how the desert can be a place of healing, transformation, and growth. . . but it can also be an incubator that twists and gnarls one’s soul into the calloused, unforgiving, and harsh conditions of the desert itself. When you are thrown into the desert, who will you be? The hero, or the villain?

Every hero and villain is born at the same point: a rejection, a betrayal, a loss, a setback, a traumatic event. . . At this point, a series of small choices are made over time that will seal the fate of both. The villain holds on to his anger, refusing to forgive. In seeking to destroy the monsters that caused his suffering, he becomes the monster. His hate grows particularly against the hero because what the hero represents is a mirror into the villain’s soul. For the hero has faced his suffering head on, embraced it, and has turned it into power. He represents who the villain could have been, but chose not to be. The hero’s very existence is a living testament against the villain’s absolute sense of “justice.” Therefore, the hero must be eradicated.

More often than not, the villain can never become the hero because his or her mind and heart are too seared by hate and anger. However, the hero is always in danger of becoming the villain. Because the hero has chosen to embrace suffering, he has chosen vulnerability in recognizing the darkness we all carry within ourselves. All of us have the potential to be demons. As Jordan Peterson notes, we must all cultivate our inner monster into a force for virtue and learn to control it. Becoming the hero does not mean that one has eradicated their inner demon; rather, they have become aware of it and realize they could become the villain if they do not control it. This brings a sense of humility and strength that produces meekness. Before, I have quoted others in pointing out that meekness is not weakness, but power under control. One who is meek is not easily offended. They are difficult to injure and are not easily provoked. Instead of loud strength, they are able to change the world and those around them through quiet strength.

Such a person is a stark contrast to today’s politicians, influencers, and activists who live for the dopamine kick of having their “righteous” rage aired for five seconds of fame on the camera or for their profile picture change or hundred character tweet to be noticed by the masses for just how good they are. In the end, they never change anything. Instead, they continue the cycle of revenge and anger, because anger sells. In their crusades, they have forgotten the most important step in facing evil is facing the evil in yourself. The one who is in most danger of becoming the villain is the one who thinks they are invincible and unstoppable, the one who ignores their inner darkness. All it takes is one tragedy to awaken the beast inside. With this in mind, we must all confront the darkness inside now, before a trial awakens it. By then, it will be too late.

Heroes must fight the monsters and evils in this world; but, they must be aware that in doing so, villains and monsters are keenly aware of the wounds of the soul because they were themselves created from the wounds of the soul. If the hero carries any wounds or bitterness, the villain will immediately seek to thrust a knife into that wound, twisting and driving it until the hero dies or becomes the villain. Weak villains think they can bring a hero down by merely attacking their physical body or material goods. The true villains, those who have mastered evil as an art, attack the spirit and will of the hero. As they torture the soul, they gain pleasure while doing so. Alfred defined a true villain to Bruce Wayne, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” They are experts in burning all that represents truth and beauty, including the souls of heroes. What is a hero to do in the face of such evil?

If a hero has not dealt with his traumas before facing monsters, he will himself become one. Nietzsche noted, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. . . And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” It should be noted here, that in the past I have mentioned that we should become monsters. In that post, I differentiated between monsters of evil and monsters of virtue. The point here is that if you set out to be a hero and fight the monsters of our day, you must have a strength that is equal to or greater than the monsters you face. Such strength is not found in any normal human being, but only in monsters, monsters who know how to face darkness because they have faced their own darkness. Bringing it back, the hero must know himself better than anyone else and his sense of identity must be stronger than the wounds from his past. Like Gandalf, a hero is able to face a monster dead in the face, reminding that monster of who he is and what the hero stands for without losing himself.

“You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

In the desert, you are at a crossroads. In the silence, as your past traumas rise to the surface, will you allow them to be healed before you set out to fight monsters? In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dr. Mark Russell wants Godzilla wiped off the face of the earth out of revenge for his deceased son. In Dr. Russell’s past, Godzilla fought a monster in San Fransisco, leveling the city in the battle. His son was caught in the crosshairs. Dr. Ishiro Serizawa challenges Dr. Russell with this saying, “Sometimes… the only way to heal our wounds is to make peace with the demons who created them.” Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Many times, reconciliation is impossible. Forgiveness is getting out of the seat of judgement against your enemies, knowing that the darkness that burdens them is also in you. Does this excuse or fix what has been done? Absolutely not. You must cry, grieve, rage, and process. . . but someday you must let go of your enemy. You must let go of yourself.

Somewhere along the line in our quest for “justice,” we are no longer concerned about righting what was wrong, but getting our own personal vindication. Many villains scream the word “justice” as the reason for their “righteous” crusades against the rich, the powerful, or the elites. . . when the reality is, they want revenge. Often times, the oppressed becomes the oppressor when they gain power. Power does strange things to the human soul. In the end, our quest for justice can turn us into the very thing we swore to fight against. Just ask any dictator throughout history, and you will see that millions have been slain in the name of justice and equality. Without forgiveness, the cycle of hate never ends. Only when there is forgiveness, can true justice be given. For justice must come not from a heart of revenge or hate, but a heart of love fierce enough to ensure that the cycle of hate ends. It is only this kind of heart that can punish evil without becoming evil itself. In the past, I have mentioned Hebrews 12 on this matter:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 

Hebrews 12:12-15

Forgiveness does not “fix” anything, but what it does do is it sets you free and gives you a newfound strength. Evil monsters have held on to themselves and let go of everyone else because everyone else has hurt them, thus they trust only themselves. Only their definition of justice is absolute. Anyone who does not fit the mold or the definition must be wiped out. On the other hand, heroes have let go of themselves for the sake of everyone else, because the hero sees in everyone the potential to become a hero, even in those who have hurt them. They see in everyone the image of God, the potential to bring good, truth, and beauty into a dark world. Like a monster, the hero is very angry. However, his anger drives him to ensure that no one will have to suffer as he did. The villain’s anger spurs him on to ensure that all suffer as he has, thus making everyone equal to himself. In contrast, the hero’s anger is controlled by his heart, thus it is a pure fire that refines the soul and focuses his passion. The villain’s heart is controlled by his anger; therefore, any remains of good have been burned away. His fire is not pure or focused, but a raging wildfire destroying and killing all in its wake. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

If you are a dreamer, one who wants to be a hero and change this word for the good, you will face monsters. You will face villains who want to shame you and torture your soul for mere sport. My generation constantly talks about how it wants to be “the change.” Many profiles have “activist” written in their bios. I look at my generation and do not see a march for justice out of love or compassion, but anger and hurt. Many in my generation grew up without fathers or mothers. They grew up with abuse, trauma, or neglect. Many communities in our inner cities have been led astray by false promises time and time again, only to be left behind while their leaders profit from their suffering. One side victimizes them, making sure they will never be free. The other side ignores them. As a result, they act out. Some who did have mothers and fathers were never trained to deal with pressure, to face suffering. Then there are those, like us all, who have been betrayed by a lover, friend, or co-worker and have given up on humanity. So we march, burn, slander, gossip, and post. . . not because something is right, but to take our revenge out on the world. . . on that person, that group, or that company. Someone has to pay. Anyone not on “my side” is irredeemable and evil; when in reality, we don’t realize we have become the evil we swore to fight against. This is not to blame a specific party or group. All sides are guilty of it. We live in a society of rage, a society of villains on all sides of the political aisle. Where are the heroes, the peace makers, and the meek in this dark hour?

If you allow yourself to become the villain and burn everything in your path, you will be more empty than you are now and will have caused the same suffering for others that has been done to you. You must turn your pain into power. You must forgive not only others, but yourself for being deemed weak and unchosen by others. For whatever you hate in yourself, you will ironically hate in others. Realize that it is your weakness that makes you strong. In the end, weakness becomes your superpower, because when you have strength you will know not to abuse it.

If you’ve seen Captain America, you may remember that Steve Rogers was once weaker than everyone else, the last choice anyone would want for a soldier. In attempting to sign up for the military during WWII, Rogers did not realize he was being tested as a candidate for a super soldier program. Before being chosen for the program, Rogers was asked by Dr. Abraham Erskene if he wanted to kill Nazis. This question was a test. Many of us might have jumped to an immediate yes if we were asked this question. After all, everything the Nazis stood for was evil and their actions resulted in one of the darkest chapters in human history. Rogers had an interesting response to Erskene’s question, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.” For Rogers, it wasn’t about killing someone because they were a Nazi or getting revenge, but fighting bullies and caring for others no matter who they were or where they came from. It was about doing what was right. Erskene wanted to see if Rogers was motivated by power or anger. The night before Rogers is set to take the serum and become a super soldier, the following conversation takes place between the two.

  • Steve Rogers: Can I ask a question?
  • Abraham Erskine: Just one?
  • Steve Rogers: Why me?
  • Abraham Erskine: I suppose that’s the only question that matters. [Displaying a wine bottle]  This is from Augsburg, my city. So many people forget that the first country the Nazis invaded was their own. You know, after the last war, they… My people struggled. They… they felt weak… they felt small. Then Hitler comes along with the marching, and the big show, and the flags, and the, and the… and he… he hears of me, and my work, and he finds me, and he says “You.” He says “You will make us strong.” Well, I am not interested. So he sends the head of Hydra, his research division, a brilliant scientist by the name of Johann Schmidt. Now Schmidt is a member of the inner circle and he is ambitious. He and Hitler share a passion for occult power and Teutonic myth. Hitler uses his fantasies to inspire his followers, but for Schmidt, it is not fantasy. For him, it is real. He has become convinced that there is a great power hidden in the earth, left here by the gods, waiting to be seized by a superior man. So when he hears about my formula and what it can do, he cannot resist. Schmidt must become that superior man.
  • Steve Rogers: Did it make him stronger?
  • Abraham Erskine: Yeah, but… there were other… effects. The serum was not ready. But more important, the man. The serum amplifies everything that is inside, so good becomes great; bad becomes worse. This is why you were chosen. Because the strong man who has known power all his life, may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength, and knows… compassion.
  • Steve Rogers: Thanks. I think.
  • Abraham Erskine: [Gesturing toward the wine]  Get it, get it. Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man.

Rogers’s weakness was his true power, not the serum he took into his body. His weakness kept him from becoming the villain when power was granted to him. In addition to this critical element of becoming a hero, there is one more. It is the ability to not only embrace weakness and learn power, but the ability to see yourself in your enemy. Allow me to indulge you one more time in my nerdiness. If you are an anime fan, you may be familiar with the hit anime Demon Slayer. Demon Slayer is about a boy named Tanjiro who joins the Demon Slayer Corps in order to fight against the demons who are menacing the people of Japan. The demons are fueled by rage and hate and survive by devouring the blood of humans. Tanjiro himself loses his entire family, except his sister, to a demon attack. At times, he is tempted to give into his pain and use his rage as a source to defeat the demons. However, unlike the other demon slayers, he realizes that each demon he encounters was once human. Each demon was a human who was treated cruelly in life and upon the verge of death, they were offered the power to become demons by the demon lord, Muzan. The only catch is that Muzan owns them and their souls, and they can never go back to being human. The heads of the Demon Slayer Corps realize that Tanjiro might be able to end the cycle of hate and the endless wars between humans and demons. They see that Tanjiro is able to slay demons out of his ferocious determination to protect those he cares about, while also having compassion on the demons they have to eliminate. In season three, Tanjiro faces Gyutaro, one of the most powerful and evil demons he has had to fight. Like true villains, Gyutaro belittles Tanjiro by attacking his soul, pointing out his weakness, and nearly killing his companions. He spews hate and anger towards Tanjiro, because Tanjiro represents what he is not. As pointed out earlier, villains are keenly aware of the wounds of the soul since that is where they were born, and will thrust the knife in as deep as they can. In anger, Tanjiro is ready to kill this demon, but before laying the blade to the demon’s neck, Tanjiro sees a vision of himself under the blade and remembers that he could have become a demon also. In this moment, Tanjiro almost lost himself in the name of doing something that was “just.” If you watch anime, you also know that flash backs are pretty common in the middle of fights. Tanjiro is also reminded by the voice of his sister in his memories of who he is and helps snap him back to reality. The hero is never a lone ranger, and has companions who are strong where they are weak. If you lose yourself in facing your enemy, the enemy has won. Much like the Joker’s goal in the Dark Knight series was not to gain control of the city, but to bring down Batman and make him break his moral code. If you are able to see some of yourself in the monsters you fight, then the enemy will never win. You will be able to win without losing yourself in the fight because humility and compassion will keep your eyes open, while pride will blind you.

Gyutaro belittling Tanjiro
Tanjiro nearly losing himself in his rage.
Finishing the fight.

So, my friend, we stand together at the crossroads of destiny. Together, we face the desert, the birthplace of all heroes and villains. Who will you and I choose to be? We must heal, for there are monsters ahead. The destiny of our communities and our nation hangs in the balance. We must become heroes. It seems that the true battle of this world in the fight against evil is not to defeat evil, but not to lose ourselves. For if you lose yourself, you will become another villain or simply, another reed in the field that mindlessly blows with the wind of culture or popular opinion. If you lose yourself, evil has won and the cycle continues. This cycle has continued ever since Adam and Eve ate the fruit. The snake did not attack the trees, the mountains, the deserts, the rivers, the plains, or even the animals that God had created. Instead, he came after the human soul, the image of God. He hates the image of God, everything he is not. Thus, the image of God must be eradicated. Since the beginning of time, he has sought through wars, deception, and chaos to drag anything and anyone bearing that image into the depths of Hell. He promises us power and justice, but at the price of our souls. Like him, we try to destroy anyone who does not bear our image. Those who do not fit in the box, who refuse to clip their wings, and who will not give up on their dreams in the name of being “realistic” must pay, because they do not bear our image. Their very existence does not allow us the freedom or excuse to wallow in our misery. They must pay. As our unhealed insecurities tear apart our souls, we try to tear down anyone who is “ahead” of us and are jealous when others succeed because they have faced their cross and borne it. Heroes are a reminder that we all have a choice and some of us hate them because of that reminder. To be free, to move from being a victim to a victor, means to take responsibility for our own actions no matter what tempests we face. All of us are dealt suffering at some point and at that point, we will choose to be the hero, the villain, or the mass of victims manipulated by today’s villains.

If you face the desert, I implore you. . . together, let’s face our suffering, embrace it, and refuse to lose our souls. For the sake of those we love and all that is good and beautiful in this world, we must become the heroes.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

Mark 8:36

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