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Being the “Bad Guy”

By Kellie Purcill

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Recently my oldest son and I watched a show on Netflix called Daredevil, and it lead to many weird and deep conversations.  Most conversations involved – at least to some point – the fact that we were strongly disagreeing with each other about a character called Fisk.  On first glance, Fisk (a rich guy with flunkies, body guards, car conveys and huge anger management failures) and his nemesis Matt Murdock (a blind freelance lawyer lying to his friends and also being a masked vigilante beating up criminals and thieves) both actively made their decisions and actions based on their total belief that they were doing it for the good of the city they loved and the people who lived there.  I think Fisk is a sociopath, or a combination of serious psychological diagnoses, whereas Patrick thought he was determined, focussed, using his money and power in intelligent, precise ways Matt was too poor and grass level to even dream about accomplishing.

The series is over, we still disagree about Fisk, and while I’ve forgotten most about the show, there’s one piece of dialogue that I can’t get out of my head.  I keep gnawing at what Fisk says, and it’s guided my scripture study and self-examination ever since.

Fisk said:

I was thinking about a story from the Bible… I’m not a religious man, but I’ve read bits and pieces over the years. Curiosity more than faith. But this one story… There was a man, he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was set upon by men of ill intent. They stripped the traveller of his clothes, they beat him, and they left him bleeding in the dirt. And a priest happened by, saw the traveller, but he moved to the other side of the road and continued on. And a Levite, a religious functionary, he came to the place, saw the dying traveller, but he, too, moved to the other side of the road, passed him by. But then came a man from Samaria, a Samaritan, a good man. He saw the traveller bleeding in the road and he stopped to aid him without thinking of the circumstance or the difficulty it might bring him. The Samaritan tended to the traveller’s wounds, applying oil and wine, and he carried him to an inn, gave him all the money he had for the owner to take care of the traveller, as the Samaritan, he continued on his journey. He did this simply because the traveller was his neighbor. He loved his city and all the people in it. I always thought I was the Samaritan in that story. It’s funny, isn’t it? How even the best of men can be deceived by their true nature.

FBI Guard #1: What the hell does that mean?

Wilson Fisk: It means that I am not the Samaritan. That I’m not the priest, or the Levite. That I am the ill intent who set upon the traveller on a road…

I was floored by that sentiment, that self-study and awareness, and that scriptural angle. I often poke at myself: my persistent soft belly, evaluating how I’m doing as a parent, how much my calm is damaged in peak hour traffic, if my anxiety or depression needs professional help, which fictional character I’d most like to be… it’s all part of what I consider and try to be regularly aware of.  The same with scripture study – I try to liken the scriptures to myself, so that I’m the repentant prodigal son AND the oldest son AND the father waiting and watching the road… but I had never considered being the bad guy. Not the “before” guy, the ignorant, the uncaring. At least, not unknowingly.

I’ve actively and repeatedly daydreamed about breaking specific people’s noses, about egging houses, about telling individuals exactly what I think of them and their behaviour – all of which are not hero or even remotely praiseworthy activities.  I subscribe more to the “Turn your other cheek so I can punch that one too” unorthodox, explosive and hotheaded school of forgiveness, and am in no way close to graduating to the holier and devout schools of practicing forgiveness I hope to one day attend. But me, the one with raw knuckles and a thickly sticky blade, walking away from my actions, leaving blood and injury to feed the dirt? Me, the harlot?  Me, throwing women and children onto the fire because of their faith – or me standing there not doing anything to stop it?

The thought that I’m just as likely the bad guy hasn’t sat comfortably with me at all, and I’m kind of glad it’s giving me hell.  I don’t believe that having faith is easy – at times having faith is the most appallingly difficult action and actively exhausting state of being I’ve survived, and not even relatively intact.  But I want to exercise my faith, and if that means wrestling with God’s angels and my own personal demons so be it. I’m trying to live in a way that I can say to myself “I did what I could” or “I did my best” or “I didn’t say/do what I really, really wanted to because I know that would have been wrong” and have that be the combined repentant pound of flesh and willing sacrifice. That unfortunately doesn’t equate with being comfortable though. For me it often involves stepping outside my usual orbit, or being opened to ideas from the sky or my inbox, from my friends and from people I’ve never met:

“Women with horrible reputations made lavish, unreasonable demonstrations of their love for Jesus, and it didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest when religious leaders smirked and wondered how it was that these women came to love Jesus so much. If he were around today, I’m convinced the story of the Good Samaritan would be the story of the Good Muslim, or the Good Lesbian, if indeed the audience he was speaking to were good Evangelicals like me and my friends.” – Steve Weins, in this post.

I liken the scriptures to myself, and I liken characters and songs and others to myself too.  I may not have definite opinions on the motivations or goodness of some people (Nephi of 1st Nephi fame for example, or Snape) but there are also those I would like to become like (Caleb of Old Testament, or Captain Malcolm Reynolds).  And if it means that I take to heart the words of a fictional sociopath, or an evangelical preacher, and become more Christlike in my intent and life, then I’m going to add Netflix to the things I’m grateful for.

Do you ever see yourself as the “bad guy” in your life?  Has something unexpected given you spiritual knowledge, maybe via a spiritual black eye/belly ache?  Are the motivations behind actions in the scriptures or movies/books you read/watch relevant to what you feel or think about the story/lesson/situation? Was Snape a good guy? Was Nephi? How do you liken the scriptures to yourself personally? Are you open to spiritual discussion or questions coming from different sources?

About Kellie Purcill

lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

17 thoughts on “Being the “Bad Guy””

  1. Yes, I have seen myself as the bad guy and it shifted my entire world. My motivation for doing good was, like Snape, impure and unforgiving. I thought I was addressing the needs of others, but I was not. I was doing, just to do, without considering if my words and deeds were what was actually needed. I was harming others with invisible swords. I strive now to do better, but who knows? 🙂 I will just continue to do my best and learn and leave the rest to God.

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  2. I always question whether I am Laman and Lemuel (or their wives). I have SEEN miracles, I was raised with the gospel but it is still far too easy to murmur. Sometimes I shake myself and remind myself of the people who walked along the path holding onto the rod, tasting the fruit but …"And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed." Those stories remind me that I am not "other." I am the sinner and need to continually repent and refocus.

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  3. I was shocked when as an adult I discovered I was more Laman and Lemuel than Nephi. It was a significant mirror, and changed my thinking. I realized even when trying to be the good guy my victim may see me differently and there is nothing I can do about their perception of me. Sometimes I have to repent of the good I've tried to do.

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  4. I love this post, because I've never heard anybody ever relate to the men of ill intent before in this story. They're such background characters to the "main story," but if they hadn't made the choice they made then the rescuing wouldn't have been needed. They were the catalyst for our judgment of the rescuers. I know there are certainly ways I'm the one causing the pain or trouble or drama — usually with thoughtless words or judgmental words. I'm good at being nonjudgmental of groups in general, but individual people sometimes bug me and that's where I cause my mischief and put people in need.

    Also, I love the questions about Snape and Nephi. Mostly because people — we — are so complicated. We are less often cut-and-dried "good guys" and "bad guys" than we want to be. In our homeschool curriculum the other day, my son said, "The Franks were the good guys, right?" and I was so surprised by the question because in the hindsight of history it's hard to know who were good guys and who were bad guys — especially for an entire group of people. And so much of history is battling for property or power — so who's really the good guys and the bad guys in those motivations?

    Sometimes I find myself relating to Laman and Lemuel when they tell Nephi, "We have not inquired of the Lord because he maketh no such thing known unto us," and I don't necessarily think of myself as being BAD for that relation. In fact, it makes me think of them as less wicked because I think, "Yeah, sometimes I feel like I'm not getting answers or I'm not going to get answers" and that doesn't seem so crazy to sometimes forget that you've gotten answers or to not be able to recognize answers you've gotten as answers. Maybe in those stories, the good guys and bad guys aren't even quite as cut-and-dried as we imagine them. Except when they start trying to kill him. At that point, I mean, yeah, it gets a bit more obvious. I'd love to hear a post on your thoughts on First Nephi, though. What makes him not such a good guy? I had a Primary teacher say Nephi always bugged her because he was so self-righteous, and I mentioned her feelings to my mom and she was annoyed at the teacher for saying that. But I've thought back on that and thought probably from his brothers' perspective she was right — he probably was hard to have as a brother if you weren't inclined to faith.

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  5. When I was young(er) and single, going to school in Boston, I had a hard time dealing with all of the beggars on the streets. I realized one day that I was mapping my way home, crossing the street here instead of there to avoid them. I was the "bad guy" in the Good Samaritan story. It was a crushing realization, as was the realization that I was not going to change my behavior. it was my way of coping at the time with school, stress, being a young woman in a city. Excuses, right?
    But the realization did make me less judgemental of the 'bad guys' in that story. The Good Samaritan is our example, our focus, just as Christ is our focus, not anti-satan. there is opposition in all things, satan's influence is real but sometimes I have to remember that I can choose the right, instead of not choosing the wrong.

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  6. Great post! I've been watching Daredevil too, and noticed that both characters believe they were acting on their best intentions for the city with very different outcomes.

    The 'ill intent' speech in the van moved me too, very interesting. The Fisk character is one of the most interesting and complex characters in a superhero TV show I've ever seen.

    I love a show or character that makes you think. Fisk definitely fits the bill.

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  7. Wow,this is painfully insightful. Two things come to mind, a saying I heard when I was younger, "The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions". I have always turned that around with delusional intent. My other thought is that I have lately identified with Peter. What a guy, he loved the Lord with all of his heart. But if anyone struggled more, and you can just "feel" it through the pages of scripture was Peter. When he was on a roll he did well, but inevitably he would put his foot in his mouth or worse chop someone's ear off.
    We all want to present our very best to Heavenly Father, but Jesus bids us to "Come as you are". To paraphrase Paul the apostle, whenever I want to do my best, do what's right, I get in my own way.
    I don't think that I am the "bad guy", because I mean no harm , and most people don't. I am the flawed guy. I am that woman who crashed the dinner at Simon the Pharisee's home and washed the Savior's feet with my tears and dried them with my hair. I have been redeemed and forgiven of my sins, but I still get in my own way and I know that Jesus is there to help me work it out.

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  8. I had this very same thought process about the intent and methods of fictional characters when I watched American Hustle, and I have long been well aware of my "bad guy" status both in my home and elsewhere – albeit 99% unintentional. Having children makes you realise that you are a selfish bully quite a bit more often than you would like to admit and having teens and young adult children – particularly headstrong ones who seem determined to learn from their own mistakes – often takes that to the next level. I remember lamenting my difficult relationship with one particular daughter to an understanding friend who very wisely slapped me across the metaphorical head with, "I know you don't INTEND it that way, but she hears it that way. It doesn't matter what your intentions were if (xyz) is what she is hearing". Harsh, I thought at the time, but nonetheless true. We are forever going to be the unintentional bad guy to someone (consider what went down in the pre-existence! In God's very presence – in a heavenly environment!) and I can accept that as part of my lot and try to make amends when those situations arise, if that is possible. It's the times when I lose control that need more focus and energy. I read a passage of scripture last night which I had read over and over in my lifetime (Nephi lamenting his weaknesses 2 Nephi 4) but never had picked up on the phrase "Why am I angry because of mine enemy?" (v 27). Now, I reckon Nephi's bar may be set a little higher than mine but if HE struggled with that, who am I kidding that I'm going to master it in this lifetime? This life is a test and will be so right up until the nanosecond when it is not – whenever that may be, but I bet you a hundred bucks it's not in this lifetime. I suppose what I am trying to say – and not very well – is that it's the TRYING that matters. Like that mythical guy pushing against the huge stone that never moves – it's the development of the strength we need to gain mastery over ourselves. If we keep trying, and trying, one day we will suddenly discover we are there. I hope so, anyway. xoxo

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  9. "I was harming others with invisible swords" – brilliantly (and painfully!) put Tay. I have those swords too. Which also reminded me of a scene in Firefly where Captn Reynolds is in a duel, and he downgrades his own character from being a "great man" to a "good man" after deliberately poking his opponent (who he granted mercy to) after defeating him. Swords and self-awareness are both pointy!

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  10. "Sometimes I have to repent of the good I’ve tried to do." Absolutely! It's the perception that changes it all, others and our own. Repenting happens for all sorts of (well-intentioned!) reasons…

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  11. Keegan – good guys vs bad guys (and the Franks!) are often really hard to shove into a particular box, but as you shared, like Laman and Lemuel that's what makes them and us more human and relatable. I hadn't through of Laman and Lemuel's reply like that, thank you it's going to give me more to ponder on.

    (And I'll keep your Nephi post suggestion in mind!)

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  12. Emily B, loved your comment! I'm not sure our reasons for choosing something are always excuses, but yeah I agree that sometimes they can be. "Choosing the right instead of not choosing the wrong" is a wonderful measurement, I'll be applying it to myself, thank you!

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  13. Tracey – isn't Fisk (and Matt too for that matter) a complicated character? It makes for some interesting conversations, arguments and self-examination. Making me think is a sure sign I'm reading or watching something good!

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  14. Fisk is fascinating and perhaps he's just the better actor because he was my favourite character to watch in this show. He's cruel but vulnerable at the same time, and I love the painting showing the marks in the wall that he stares at in order to become the man he wants to be.

    I like the character of Foggy moreso than Matt. Matt's powers are interesting, but Foggy's loyalty and subsequent broken heart are more moving to watch.

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  15. Ramona, identifying with the people in the scriptures – in particular the ones who struggled, who aren't the 'ideal' or 'holy' – is something I do too. I'd rather be identifying with the woman weeping than those watching with sneers… except sometimes I'm not. Here's to not getting in our own way on our own path to our Saviour.

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  16. Marnie – seriously, what is it with headstrong children? Of course, I can't say that I was one of said creatures… NOT! All kidding aside, I agree with you. Working out what they are hearing versus what I'm saying/meaning is so difficult and humbling. And Nephi had a pretty good list of things to point the Lord towards with the whole "Why am I angry?" comment, but his spiritual muscles let him not point to them… somehow. Thank you for sharing your journey with me.

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