All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances, (II, vii)
Shakespeare’s speech, from As You Like It is about the stages of life; however, I want to apply the words in a different way. Imagine if you will that your life is a play, and the people in your life are the men and women that have their entrances and exits in your story. Some of them will be your principal characters with long running contracts; others will have cameo appearances; and still others will have short term contracts, maybe just making an appearance for a season or so. The fact is that your life is a story and as such, it contains heroes and villains.
As I ponder Shakespeare and the roles that I play in my life: mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, teacher, I realize that my roles evolve as life evolves. While I consider myself to be a thoughtful, caring and compassionate person, one who values honesty and empathy, it occurs to me that I am both a hero and a villain as I appear in the life story of others.
If we play out Shakespeare’s metaphor, it is impossible to remain neutral in the life story of every person that you encounter. Regardless of how good you try to be, your needs or wants, motives or goals, will eventually clash with those of someone else in a way that you become a villain, intended or not.
It depends on whose story it is. In my life narrative, my kids are heroes, my ex-husband, on the other hand, definitely not a hero, but that will be a story for another time. Think of it, one day when I’m driving and I cut someone off, accidental or not, I might become the villain of the day in that person’s story. The man that I slept with and then ignored, despite his several attempts to reach out to me: I’m the villain. What about the man that slept with me and then ignored me, villain in my story.
Despite how good we intend to be, we are not perfect. We hurt people and help people, often unintentional on both counts. There is a woman that I speak to every morning at work. We really only ever talk about the weather. We are not friends and we don’t even connect that much, but she is a hero to me. She goes to work every day with a smile, and she has a friendly word for every person she encounters. She never walks into a room and ignores people, but she’s not boisterous either. She is a custodian and she keeps herself busy, but my day is not complete until we’ve bantered for a few minutes. We both always wish each other a good day. I don’t know that I’m a hero in her story, but she is in mine, because she let me be seen instead of feeling unnoticed during a difficult time in my story.
Regina Brett, (among others I’m sure) an American journalist said, ‘It’s none of your business what others think of you,’ and while I believe this, it’s hard to live it sometimes. I don’t tell you about heroes and villains to cause you pain or to encourage you to try and be one or the other, but instead to hopefully save you from the stress or grief of constantly trying to be a hero. It’s impossible to be the hero in every person’s story, and you may never know what role you have been cast in, but to constantly worry about it will just put years on your life. Instead, try to be a good person and try not to do anything that will cause you to doubt that. I try never to do anything that makes it hard to look at myself in the mirror and for the most part I’m successful. You can be too. Let go of the guilt if you have been cast as a villain, sometimes it’s not really anything that you did or that you can change, it’s just circumstances.
In your life, you will be cast in many roles, not all of them heroic, but as long as you are not the go to villain in every story, let go of the guilt and the pressure to always be a hero. The role you play in another person’s narrative is not really up to you anyway.