So who is a villain? Other words that can be interchanged with the word are rogue, anti-hero, desperado, despicable, scoundrel or a baddie. To us, our villain would be that person that signposts everything we loathe in an individual or which we consider to be despicable to us and perhaps a frontal assault on our strongly-held values and standards of behavior. This is often a double-edged sword. Our core values and moral standards and expectations will largely determine who our heroes and our villains are. Sometimes, those we denigrate because their conduct is antithetical to our values are held in high esteem by those who may not espouse similar mores and ethical standards. Indeed, the pendulum does swing two ways!
As parents with children who look up to us, as a spouse with a partner that dotes on us, as leaders with a group of people to influence especially in a collective, we should ideally aspire to be their hero in the most positive way possible. The story of a leader’s life is not complete until he has people who see him as their icon, compass and perhaps template of conduct. Having said that, to be effective as a leader, you must also endure and be comfortable with the other side of the coin. As many look up to you as an infallible icon, there will be some who can only see in you, a mindless villain who they believe stands in the way of your doing what they desire to do.
One man’s hero is another man’s villain. Robin Hood, a character in British folklore was known, famously or notoriously, depending on who was laying out the narrative, for robbing the rich to empower common, poor folk. To the rich, he was the most notorious villain that ever lived. To ordinary, poor peasant folk, he was a cult figure, a folk hero! Adolf Hitler plunged the whole world into war. The Second World War was a product of his overbearing, intolerant and belligerent ego that believed that his nation Germany was superior to other nations. The Nazist agenda which he championed plunged the whole world into an orgy of mindless carnage that decimated nations. He himself was responsible for mass genocide that saw life snuffed out of millions of Jews whom he gassed to death! While a larger population of the world would regard Hitler as perhaps the greatest human tragedy that was ever foisted on the human race, till today, neo-Nazists still revere his person and philosophy which propounded the theory of the supremacy of the Aryan race and the inferiority of others who he believed had no right to live. They still proudly hoist the swastika, the flag reminiscent of all that Hitler embodied and gave to his world.
To the apartheid regimes of Pieter Botha and later Frederik de Klerk, Nelson Mandela was the worst villain in South Africa, hence his 27-year incarceration in the nation’s most dreaded maximum prisons. Conversely, his ideals and philosophy of equality of all races irrespective of skin colour made him the darling and iconic symbol for every freedom fighter who at that time, was fighting for equity, justice and liberty from oppression worldwide. In time, the attention his cause got from the rest of the world not only catapulted him from the position of a folk hero, it made him a global legend whose release from prison not only signified the end of apartheid but was met with worldwide celebration.
So, if you are comfortable with some seeing you as a hero, I counsel that you be equally comfortable if some regard you as a villain. If you inspire some, you will of necessity disgust others! The bottom–line however must be the nobility of your cause.
Cheerleaders are those who find something to celebrate or cheer in someone they esteem as hero. To the cheerleader, his hero is practically infallible. Cheerleaders often forget that even gods have clay feet. When we go to watch our favourite team play, we usually have our ‘hero’ players whose every move, even when flawed, we applaud. As a matter of fact, to a cheerleader, if care is not taken, the gaffes of a hero can become the cheerleader’s vogue! Up till today, there are several Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson wannabe look-alikes who try not only to ape the looks but also the dance steps of these deceased musical icons. To such people, these ‘heroes’ practically had no flaws, not minding the fact that Elvis died of cocaine abuse and Michael Jackson from an overdose of pain-killers as a result of vitiligo consequent on repeated surgeries to alter his looks, especially his nose!
More often than not, the leader’s cheerleaders can also be his greatest undoing. When a leader feels an unbridled sense of aplomb arising from an over-celebrated Messiah complex, he tends to fall into the delusion of an overrated importance that can make him impervious to self-censorship. Like the elephant in local folklore, lured with an offer of kingship stemming from what seemed like overwhelming acceptance by all the animals in the forest, not knowing that it was being led to sure death as the atoning sacrifice for other animals, a conceited hero is goaded towards his own destruction because he over-exaggerates his own importance. Such leadership breeds sycophants like rotten meat breeds maggots.
In walking the delicate tightrope of functioning along these three lines, we need to be careful of the dangerous fault lines. Remember that in the same way that we have heroes that we are cheerleaders for, as well as some people we regard as despicable villains, we must be reminded of the Yoruba adage that says that whoever points a finger in the direction of another person should be mindful of the direction of the remaining four fingers! When we are celebrated as heroes, we must constantly ask ourselves about the quality of the values that underpin such perception. One of my most valued moments in life was when I read in the university Year Book of the graduating class of one of my sons, his response to who his role model was. His answer? “My Dad”.
In contrast, those who see us as villains must be those to whom our value system appears too high and opposed to the unethical standards they want to compromise us into adopting! Our ‘villainy’ must be seen in the context of the bold relief in which our values stand in relation to their warped ethical code.
And when we choose to be anyone’s cheerleader, it must never lead to a values somersault that makes a man call a cow his uncle simply because his palate craves beef. In choosing and cheering our heroes, we must never forget that the best of men are still men at their very best. Not to recognize that is to roll from one approval-seeking dysfunctional relationship to another in a way that makes a leader lose sight of his own potentials and capacity in his fawning allegiance to hero figures that actually demean his persona.
You are worth much more than that!
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!