“People never change,” the common belief goes. But many people are trying each and every day to do better. Sometimes, even though they’re trying, they don’t make any real progress for a long time, just thinking over and over every time they participate in a behavior they’re trying to change that they need to do better. And sometimes they have bad days.
I think all of us have bad days, “woke up on the wrong side of the bed” days, though I have also known people who are basically always pleasant, even if they’re having an off day. And there are grouches who always seem to be having a bad day. On my bad days, I’m more prone to snap on a hair trigger and yell at my kid, who as a three year old, does not have the coordination to navigate hair triggers. It’s not the kind of mom I want to be, but trying to get back in control feels like I’m watching someone else yell at my kid. It’s something I have to work on. When I was younger, sometimes I just wanted to antagonize my younger brother, pick a fight with him. He and I got along astonishingly well for most siblings, so this wasn’t usual behavior for me. Overlord persona aside, I don’t really think of myself as a villain, even if I sometimes behave badly.
Therein lies the line between villains and jerks – you have to define for yourself where that line might be, but dynamic people might be a villain for a day, one off day. Some people might be genuinely lovely in one setting, and genuinely awful in another; a friend recounted in a Facebook status how one associate once left their garage door open for days straight because a bird had made its nest on it and he waited for the eggs to hatch and babies to fly away before he dared close it, but in a discussion about the Middle East, suggested our best tactic would be to bomb it into a sea of glass. Tenderness and heartlessness in the same person at different times and different situations. Perhaps you could say he was a villain that day (and of course, saying something is pretty different than doing it – perhaps if he had the button to actually bomb the Middle East into a sea of glass, he would hesistate and fail to press it).
This is why mere bad actions alone do not a villain make. Villainy has to come from somewhere deeper, more innate. Certainly there’s some room for argument, but even if you feel comfortable calling a man who’s just having a bad day a week or month or year in a row trashing the lives of people around him a villain, he’s absolutely different than a villain who does the exact same outward actions for a different reason than “grouchy and angry”.
It’s the difference between a murder of passion and premeditated murder – you can say that either way, you’re a murderer, and you’re usually going to be right, but I find someone who can sit and carefully plan out a murder more terrifying than someone who gets caught up in the moment and does something terrible. (I am not, of course, particularly talking about the kinds of murders that are accidents or self-defense, but the kind where there were so many other options to deal with anger or a displeasing situation, and the assailant chose murder out of all of those). There certainly can be and often is something that’s terrifying about someone who, when pushed to a particularly excited state, responds with the extreme response of murder, and that sort of person can be especially bone-chilling as a villain, maybe even moreso than the premeditated sort of villain, but premeditation suggests a long game, a heart already filled with some kind of evil rather than a snap decision that might or might not indicate a dormant bit of evil that was always in the heart, that might or might not lead to increasing amounts of bad decisions, growing heartlessness, or any sort of true villain. Maybe they were just a villain for the day, a murderer for the day, and afterwards, the stain of their actions never leaves, but they aren’t really a villain either, they aren’t so changed of heart to be predispositioned towards more harm. Maybe they try to hide their crime until it all falls apart from within and they give in to the truth. Maybe they don’t, but they try to make up for their actions other ways.
Maybe they were just a villain for a day.