A toddler is not a villain, even if they are a tyrant.
But just like babies, a toddler suffers from lack of development. It’s a little different; my kid is starting to know right from wrong, even with our communication barriers. She gets into trouble and does things she knows she’s not supposed to do – but sometimes, I tell her not to do something and I don’t think she understands I mean to never, ever do it, like stand in the bottom kitchen drawer to get at things on the kitchen counter.
And of course there are tantrums. I gotta say I have it pretty good since my kid doesn’t throw them super often and actually not for particularly long…but she’s also not quite two yet, and I am starting to see an increase in frequency, so I guess we’ll see. The thing about tantrums is that they’re not really so much an action of evil or anything as an unbridled expression of big emotions.
When my kid is “naughty” – does something we both know she knows she’s not supposed to – I understand that she is just starting to learn about actions and consequences, cause and effect. She’s not supposed to Do The Thing, but why, what does that mean? This is new. She gets a pass, morally, for misbehaving – she’s not a villain when she does something she knows is wrong because her motivation for doing it anyway neglects a full understanding of “wrong” and “consequences” and is driven by curiosity. That’s an innocent intention, not an evil one, even if it can have evil results.
When my kid throws a tantrum, she doesn’t know any better how to express her emotions. But even when an adult throws a tantrum, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s just unrefined behavior. It’s unpleasant, but not the makings of a villain. Heck, even I have drama queen tantrums sometimes. I’ll bet you know people who do that too.
But the tyrant thing…My whole life is often centered on that kid. I’m like her servant, her handmaid – well, you’ve heard all the things a mom does a million times I’m sure. I don’t get to stay as late as I’d like because I have to go home and put the kid to bed. I have a tough time enjoying flow in writing because my kid interrupts me. She needs me to feed her RIGHT NOW. To change her RIGHT THIS SECOND. To hold her RIGHT NOW. To read her this book, get her X thing, go with her to X place, go on a walk, call grandma! Right now. If I don’t, she’ll cry. (Maybe. She’s a good kid.) Sure, I can say, “Tough break, kid!” and I often do, but she’s a tyrant who still often runs my life.
And tyrants are always evil, right?
But…my kid is just almost two. An almost two year old can only do so much to take care of herself – sure, she can find food sometimes, if I didn’t put the bag of cheerios out of reach, but she’s got nothing on hygiene or much in basic survival skills – she thinks a knife is a fun toy and doesn’t really know how to not get hit by a car. She’s a tyrant because she has to be to get enough attention to survive.
It’s not even an age thing. When you’re a caretaker, it’s a hard job, and the people who depend on you react differently to being dependent. Someone who had major surgery might be a tyrant, or any other kind of patient, or the infirm and elderly or disabled. Sometimes they might not mean to be, or they might be reacting to how much they hate being dependent or another factor.
And that brings up an interesting point – how evil is someone who should know better but doesn’t? How evil is someone who is mostly a product of their upbringing? And at what point does a tyrant become evil?
That last question – that’s a good one to ask, since there are things we hold as synonymous with evil, that aren’t actually, and we really need to stop viewing it that way if for no other reason than, as artists, it gives us more range with which to work. If you assume a tyrant is always evil, you have made a Villain Box. Saying tyranny is always bad is a moral judgement, not an objective fact. It’s not necessarily a bad call – it’s one I’d generally agree with – but parsing the two allows you diversity. Likewise, is a tyrant always an evil person? I think the answer depends on how strongly correlated evil acts and motive of all sorts are to you. If it’s not black and white, then the answer could be no.
I don’t watch Game of Thrones* but I hear that this kid
behaves an awful lot like a tyrannical little toddler. Buuut I also hear that he’s one of the most hated villains. If he behaves like a toddler and my kid behaves like a toddler, but only one of the two tyrants is really a villain…
Yeah. Motivation counts for a lot. The more you develop, the more you ought to know, the more complex your motivation becomes. When you know better, you’re supposed to do better. Sometimes what “do better” means is confusing, and that’s how you get the gray tyrants. But it’s just more to say that evil acts alone do not a villain make.
* Please don’t try to convince me I’d like it. I wouldn’t. Why?
Let’s just say reasons.