Bad guy?

Something about the phrase “bad guy” makes it roll off the tongue so easily and in such a satisfying way. Even the one-year old, who is just learning to talk, has it in his vocabulary. He has been known to wander around our house chanting “Badguybadguybadguy…” Oh, to know what goes on in the mind of a toddler! Who is a bad guy? Why is he a bad guy? And who taught you the phrase bad guy anyway?

The older kids always want to make sure they’ve got the characters in stories sorted out, from the beginning.
“Is he the bad guy?”
“I don’t know. Let’s listen to the story and we’ll probably find out.”
“But is he the bad guy?”
I imagine that a new story is safer, less scary and unsettling, when you know where you stand, when you know who the bad guys and the good guys are.

I like to ask my kids about the bad guy. Why do you think he’s the bad guy? The younger kids sometimes point at furrowed eyebrows as the sure proof of badness. Or gloomy-coloured outfits. Loud, agressive voices. Slightly older kids aren’t as sure why bad guys are bad guys, but they’re pretty sure who is one. They just know.

The Beast: Bad guy or good guy?
I’m such a big fan of the story Beauty and the Beast. (If you’re not familiar with the Disney version, which is the one my kids know, you can read about it here.) In the story, the Beast starts out pretty bad. The narrator says that he’s “spoiled, selfish and unkind.” Within a few seconds, he’s been turned into a large and hairy monster. Big teeth, sharp nails, throws random lost folks into dungeons – definitely the bad guy. But is he?

As the story progresses, he begins to change. He starts sharing. He learns to speak gently. He stops throwing tantrums. At the end of the story, he gives up his life for someone he loves. Maybe he’s not a bad guy anymore?

Learning to be good
There aren’t many stories where Bad-guy-ness isn’t a permanent affliction. Sometimes, to a four-year old, it’s news to see that it isn’t. Good news. The truth is, just like the Beast, we all struggle with being “spoiled, selfish and unkind”. But we’re hoping that at the end of our story, we’re going to be counted as one of the good guys.

Teaching moments
I don’t know how many times we’ve talked about the Beast’s redemption at our house (not that we use the word redemption). So many times when someone else is “spoiled, selfish and unkind” and we have to remember that maybe, they’re just at the beginning part of their story. Maybe later, they’ll learn to be better. Or maybe we have to be kind to them so they’ll learn how to be good. Other times when we are the ones who are “spoiled, selfish and unkind.” Stories like this help bring to life complicated themes like forgiveness, giving of one’s self, or redemption, like no lecture can. I just have to pay attention and take the time to have the conversations that bring them out.

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