A Good Villain (Blog Post)

Every story wants a villain. Villains make stories feel complete, and full of excitement. It would be a lot less exciting if Luke and Darth Vader were a normal father-son duo, right? What if there was no light and dark side, just a grey side? The story would not be told the same way. The epic battles would cease to be the focus. It would become another less-interesting story of a civilization just existing.

Stories don’t just want villains. The best stories want grand villains with a striking image. In Skyrim you battle Alduin, the World-Eater. Alduin is a dragon that seeks to enslave and end the various mortal races inhabiting his world. He makes a good villain because his motives are clear. You can, and should, oppose him just by hearing him speak of his desires to dominate.

In 2020 we are facing a villain. It’s not a sentient being and it’s not striking or grand. The virus that our society faces is difficult to write about or even think about, because we cannot perceive it. That also makes it harder to research and to predict.

To illustrate this confusion, let’s look at the S&P 500’s movements over the last few months. The big drop in the market began on February 20th, 2020. Over about a month the index fell about 33%. During that period you could argue that the American people understood (or thought they understood) how the villain would affect them. The market is emotional, and this drop largely reflected the way people assumed the economy would be hit.

Sure. That makes sense. But then how do you explain the next month? From March 23rd to today (written on April 27th) we saw the market climb over 28%. We’re still not back to the highs we started with in February, but the uncertainty around how our society will actually deal with this has resulted in “business as usual.” A recovery and slow uptick is what tends to happen following drops in the market.

Losing ~50,000 Americans, and countless other global citizens, is not “business as usual.” It is certainly a major cause for concern. Losing millions of jobs, having business suspended, and having unemployment payments support a huge percentage of those folks is not “business as usual” either. But, the enemy is not visible. We have no idea how long this will last, and so we return to a sense of normalcy pretty quickly…as long as it’s not affecting us. Humans are creatures of habit, after all.

I did not write this piece to encourage you to be normal in this moment. I wrote this piece to point out a helpful resiliency we have, but a feature of humans that ultimately does not aid us well in this case. We don’t have some big villain to fight, there’s no statue to topple, but that also doesn’t mean things should go back to “business as usual” for you yet. You should spend more time caring about some specific things.

On the financial side, care about your income and your savings, be able to weather a coming financial storm. On the personal side, care about your level of activity and your mental health. On the health side, care about your distance from others and the limited list of people you should be physically near. On the social side, you should care about each other. We need each other more than ever right now. We need to laugh, to smile, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable sometimes.

So here’s where I share with you all my moment of vulnerability. Right as all of this started, as our invisible villain began dismantling our normal, I faced another challenge in my personal life. It was another story without a clear villain. It’s not one you will write an epic novel about, or that will be featured in a video game.

My wife and I got separated. I’ve written about Rebecca here before. She was, and still is, someone I care about very deeply. However, our invisible enemy was change. The two of us began a relationship with very aligned goals. Stay together forever, no children, build a life that is fun, exciting, and adventurous.

Change took Rebecca down a different path than me. Having a child became very important to her. I understand why, and I don’t hold it against her, but I still do not want that for myself. My big change, becoming a business owner, took its own separate toll on our relationship as well. So because of this change, there was no real resolution besides separation. She’s not the villain in this story either. We both changed. But, that did not make the separation and the eventual divorce that will follow any less painful.

So there’s my moment. There’s my villainless struggle that I needed to be vulnerable about. The good news is much like our current global crisis, the same human resiliency is pulling me back to a state of normalcy. There is no good or bad with this habitual behavior, it just is.

Even though my situation may seem dramatic and sweeping, that does not detract from the struggles that I know many of you are going through right now. So whether your struggle makes for a good story and has a clearly-defined villain with horns and pointy teeth or your struggle is more emotional or mental, please make sure to share it.

It helps. It really does. Thank you for reading and please, stay safe and healthy.

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