Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good Guys, Bad Guys

The concept of "the good guys" verses "the bad guys" is not a new one to my children. My oldest may not yet be 5 years old, but even the simplest story books have some antagonist.

The term "bad guys" has been extended for our purposes to help our children understand that that person or those people are not doing what is right and Mommy and Daddy don't want them to succeed. Over the years this has included everyone from the Big Bad Wolf to President Obama to any team playing Duke's men's basketball team. :) The girls know that you never want the "bad guys" to win and you always root for the "good guys." Certainly, being "bad" is not always as clear cut as Hansel and Gretel's witch or Jack's giant.

Recently, as Christmas has been rapidly approaching, the girls have seen more than one version of A Christmas Carol and have come to be very fond of "the bad guy" who becomes a "good guy" by the end of the story. In that sense, it has been a wonderful introduction for them to the subject of conversion and repentance.

But I've come to notice a very specific distinction between the way Cecilia deals with the concept of "bad guys" and the way Felicity does.

Upon watching the classic The Red Balloon, which I was watching for the first time with the girls, both girls kept asking who "the bad guys" were. When I suggested there might not be any, Cecilia matter-of-factly replied, "every story has a bad guy." She recognizes there is no perfect world without any bad guys but she also realizes that, for the most part, stories need an antagonist for the story to progress.

Felicity is not so ready to embrace such a world. Felicity will avoid stories because of the bad guys. She has said she doesn't want to see Tangled again because of the bad guys. Whenever she plays, she refuses for any of the toys to be bad. Alligators never bite and even those characters that were bad in the story, when she plays with them, have already repented and converted and are always good. The Beast never loses his temper and Maleficent only uses her magic for good.

Felicity doesn't want to play in a world with bad guys.

Of course this makes for some interesting play between Cecilia and Felicity whereupon Cecilia declares one toy the villain and Felicity immediately converts him.

It has been a fascinating distinction to see and observe. I am curious to see if Felicity is simply not ready to accept a world with "bad guys" and will eventually adapt to Cecilia's perspective or if she simply doesn't want to think of anyone being bad and will continue to fight against such a concept of the world.

The funny thing is that, while Felicity rejects a world with "bad guys" she is not a child to cheerfully greet anyone and assume the best of everyone. On the contrary, she is my shy girl who doesn't willingly give anyone a wave, a smile or a "hello" until she has gotten to know them and is confident that they are "OK" by Mommy and Daddy. Even people she is familiar with, like our parish priests, she will hide from until she "warms up" to them again.

It is almost as though Felicity is more sensitive to the fact the world has "bad guys" and so avoids them as much as she possibly can, maybe even hoping if she doesn't see them, they will go away and then they aren't really there.


  1. I'm personally with the Felicity mentality, lol. I always make a big fuss distinguishing between a "bad person" and a "person who does a bad thing".

    Villains are fun. They just are (at least the ones we don't take too seriously). But I don't see the world with inherently bad people. Misguided maybe. But people to me aren't bad. They just might do bad things sometimes. Maybe often, maybe rarely. But that's my view on the world. Felicity and I share some common ground, ha.

  2. I'm very curious to see how this develops. Whether the difference is developmental or temperamental. Aren't children so fascinating?

    Bella and Sophie don't really seem to have the idea of "bad guys" on their radar yet.

  3. Michael, the fact she now (thanks to Scrooge) often asks when the bad guy will become a good guy, suggests on the one hand, that she recognizes the bad guy may not be inherently evil and hopes for their conversion. On the other hand, all my girls rejoice when the "good guy beat the bad guy." When we use the term "bad guys" it is a much more vague term simply to help her understand it is not a person she should root for or want to succeed.

    Villains certainly can be fun. Some of the most fun songs are sung by the villains, but we generally still always want the good guys to win in the end. She has not yet reached that degree of levity with "bad guys" though where she seems able to enjoy a fun villain. She is much too sensitive to them to see any fun in any villain. For her, it is either convert, be defeated or she doesn't want anything to do with them. Cecilia, on the contrary, sees the villain as a part of a fun story. The villain may not be fun, but she has no problem deal with him for the sake of the story.

    One other point I didn't think to mention in my original post: While we do use the term "bad guys" about real people as well as fictional, Cecilia does seem to think of them as primarily in stories. She was somewhat shocked to find out that the Nativity story has a bad guy - Herod. I haven't gone into every detail on why he is a villain, but she knows Jesus, Mary and Joseph have to escape to Egypt because Herod wanted to hurt Jesus. If she was shocked about Herod, I don't think she is ready for the devil just yet :) So while she has been told of "bad guys" outside of stories, it recently came to my attention that she might not fully grasp the reality of them outside of a story yet.

    It is possible that points at the big difference between Cecilia and Felicity: Maybe (I don't know, but maybe) Cecilia sees them as more fictional whereas Felicity understands them to a greater degree as real and hence why they respond so differently to them. Time will tell I guess.

  4. Melanie, YES! It has been a fascinating distinction to observe. I am curious myself to see where it goes.

  5. Developmentally speaking small children NEED to see the world in very black and white terms. They need fairy tales, stories with bad guys and good guys. They need stories in which good triumphs over evil. The idea of a good person who does bad things is a little more nuanced than a four year old can handle. Also developmentally speaking, I wouldn't really expect a 4 year-old to be able to differentiate clearly between what is real and what is just stories, though obviously she'd understand more clearly than a 2 year-old.