Evil Villain Therapy
I think I’ve invented a new kind of therapy. I’m pretty sure I thought of it even before Jesus did. It involves turning my real life enemies into villains in my novels.
In my literature course at University we learned that in story-telling, villains are usually the most fun. Think Loki, in The Avengers, or if we go a bit more Renaissance, Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Milton did such a great job of depicting Satan that everyone thought that he (Satan, not Milton) was way more interesting than Jesus. Milton was a deeply religious man, so I’m pretty sure this was not exactly the point he was trying to get across to the public. Poor Milton.
But I’ve got my own problems, which seem to mainly consist of, you guessed it, other people. French Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre famously said, “Hell is other people.” But with a moment’s reflection you might question this. It seems to me that this is generally not true. In most circumstances I think it would be more honest to admit that Hell is not other people — it is how I react to them.
Here’s my novel method (quite literally) for dealing with this problem.
I’m a monk and an Acarya, which is a kind of spiritual teacher. We Acaryas are supposed to be good and kind all the time. Sometimes this is a real pain, especially when dealing with people who are, how can I put this politely…really horrible.
My Guru taught that we should love everyone, but we don’t have to like everyone. But how do we still love people when they do terrible things? Perhaps it starts with remembering that even the most dire character, Charles Koch, for example has a divine soul, or Atman, and will one day, barring accidents (one can still hope, right?), attain spiritual enlightenment.
In a severe case like that of Mr Koch, I’m betting this is going to take a good long while, perhaps starting out with a couple of hundred extra fun rounds as a frog living in France.
Anyway, back to my lifetime. I’m fortunate enough to not meet very many really bad people. I’ve met a few murderers and bank robbers, but that was when I was teaching meditation in prisons, and they were sincerely on the path to reform and seemed surprisingly nice. Mostly I get to hang out with yogis and do-gooders and they’re generally well above average on the loving kindness scale.
But occasionally a power hungry, delusional ego-maniac wanders into my life, and this kind of person really bugs me! Which is a problem. As a monk, I’m supposed to be un-bugable.
How true Buddha’s wise saying: ‘ holding on to hatred is like swallowing poison.’ Buddha was really good at wise sayings. So I know it’s not healthy to go around hating people but sometimes it is hard to control. At a certain point I realized that I must figure out how to deal with these negative feelings.
Then I struck upon a creative solution. Why not create voodoo dolls of my enemies and torture them by sticking pins into them?
Just kidding. Sort of. What I actually do, as a writer of silly fantasy novels, is turn my enemies into imaginary villains and then torture them. You should try it sometime. It’s fun!
This works surprisingly well. So well that when I discover that this person who is making me crazy makes a great character in my novel, I find myself laughing instead of imagining myself strangling him. This feels like progress. I feel grateful and offer thanks to this maniac for helping to make my story more fun. By this point I’m beginning to feel compassion for my enemy and even to love them, which is after all pretty much the whole point. Of everything.
So why does this work? I think this is what might be going on. In the best stories, populated by interesting characters, the villain isn’t all bad. That would be boring. No real person is one-dimensional. A believable villain needs to be relatable, which means I, as the author, have to provide a reasonable explanation for this strange person wanting to take over the world and enslave everyone.
In James Thurber’s story, The Wonderful O, the pirate villain hated everything with an ‘O’ in it, like owls and wool and ostrogoths. But this was because his mother died when she fell out of a porthole, which is round like an ‘O’. So he was in pain because he loved his mother, and we can all empathize with someone who loves his mother, even if he is a lunatic and a pirate and doesn’t like ostrogoths.
When writing my novel, and transforming my ‘arch-enemy number 2' into a villain, I came to know and understand him, and when we know and understand someone it’s very hard to continue to hate them. Instead, we empathize with them, and realize that the reason they are delusional power mongers is because they were traumatized as children, or their mother fell through a porthole. They are no longer ‘other’, so our hatred is transformed into sympathy. And we understand that, as the Sufi saying goes, ‘There is no praise, there is no blame.’
Now any reasonably sane writer knows that every story we invent, though we imagine it to be populated by others, is entirely a product of our own psyche. Thus Luke Skywalker facing Darth Vader in the cave in The Empire Strikes Back finds that his enemy is in fact himself. And I am forced to realise that every character in my novel, including the villain, is me.
Remember how Jesus Christ said we should love our enemies? Is it possible that he too struggled with… but no, how could I even think that? I’m sure he was just a natural at loving everyone.
But whether Jesus or I are the inventors of this ‘novel method’ doesn’t really matter. I just think it is cool how humor can be used to dissolve toxic feelings and that I can trick myself into loving my enemies and finding peace in my heart.
Don’t expect me to reveal any specifics about which real life individuals I’ve turned into evil villains in my books. That’s classified. I have buried a few clues in the text so my allies, and presumably Jedi Masters, may figure it out, but I’m not putting anything in writing. I’m not a fool. You don’t know these people. Some villains will stop at nothing!