Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sundays are my usual writing days. I had planned to explore the new “feeling economy” but then last night we watched Cobra Kai on Netflix and I just had to write about it as it is the perfect show to be launched at this time. I will not even get into the surprising artistic merit of this show as I would like to focus instead on our perceptions and our need for clearly defined good guys and bad guys.

Literature and art are historically centered around the central theme of the good guy and the bad guy, the hero and the villain. Protagonists in every story need an antagonist to derail their efforts. Think about every Marvel Comic movie ever made. Many of our stories are focused on person-versus-person. One character is a good guy who struggles against the deviousness of the bad guy. But the clear-cut differentiation between good and bad is becoming more and more blurred with shows like Breaking Bad which shows a good guy gone bad for the right, and then wrong, reasons.

from IMDB

What Cobra Kai does is take it one step further. The black-and-white good and bad guys from Karate Kid alternate between their old label, reversing labels, then being both good guy and bad guy at the same time. As I have written before, I think this is much closer to the truth. We are all good, at times. We can all be bad at times. But mostly we are human, fallible, imperfect, inconsistent. What causes problems in the world is when we label someone for a single action and refuse to understand their motivation, their backstory or to offer them a chance for redemption. Once they are labeled, they are condemned.

Sometimes using a label allows us to commit horrific acts as we feel justified because we have labeled and dehumanized the other. Anytime we separate ourselves from others we are hurting ourselves as well as others. Whether we label others as good or bad, Democrat or Republican, Cubs fan or White Sox fan, we are only looking at one slice of the whole person and losing our humanity along the way.

For the past 30 days I listened to the Fostering an Undefended Heart meditation course. At the core of the class was the desire to break us from our us-and-them mentality. It is so easy to think only of ourselves, our lives, our needs, our perspectives. The class used exercises to help cultivate forgiveness, worth, peace, compassion, kindness, and joy in a telescoping fashion; first by truly embracing these concepts for ourselves as self-love is a challenge for many, then out to those we love, then out to those nameless people around us, then out to those with whom we are in conflict, i.e., the bad guys. Through the course I found myself becoming whole as I truly saw and embraced others wholly.

In an entertaining way, Cobra Kai does the same thing. Through the show we do not only see one aspect of the character, we learn their backstory. We see areas they do well and where they don’t. We see their struggles, we see their efforts, we see them grow – and fall back. It is interesting that the characters in the show that now appear to be the bad guys, are the ones which we have not learned their backstory yet. We can make Kyler out to be the bad guy who beats up nerds and is a womanizer, but will he be so easy to label when we know the full picture of his life?

This week notice your labels. When are you putting others in a box? Take a moment to see that person fully and see if your hatred lessens and your compassion grows through understanding.

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