“You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”
~ John Rogers, screenwriter, film and television producer, director, comedian, comic book writer
Since the author of the quote is a professional storyteller perhaps he’s teaching a lesson on the importance of an aspiring writer understanding this dynamic.
And, I believe that what he said is brilliant.
It also pertains to everyday life. Our everyday lives.
This blog has often featured lessons regarding belief systems and understanding that we all see the world from our own personal viewpoints based on a number of factors. This is below the surface of conscious thought and I often refer to it as our “unconscious operating system.” Not only do we operate solely based on the premises of our belief systems, others operate solely out of theirs. And, neither are aware of such.
So, it’s often suggested not only to become aware that we are operating this way but that the other person is, as well. This leads to a deeper understanding and makes effective communication more likely. This concept applies to interpersonal transactions and relationships, as well as to observing life, people, and different views in general.
However…Mr. Rogers’ statement brings it to an even higher level.
The current political scene is a fascinating example.
Members of the two major parties seem to operate out of two completely different ways of seeing the world, human nature, causes, and effects. (Please note that I’m not referring to the specific candidates, national, state or local, but rather the general voter committed to their party’s philosophy.)
Not only does each person believe they are correct in their understanding; as we often see, read, and hear, each sees those of the other party as being so wrong that they often subscribe their motives as “evil.”
So, on one level we could say that simply by understanding the other side’s viewpoint it could help us close the gap when discussing issues with them.
But, That’s Not Enough
Let’s move to an entirely deeper level by taking Mr. Rogers’ advice and actually try and understand why he or she (individual members) sees themselves as a protagonist (in this context, the hero, or “good guy/gal”) in their own version of the world.
There are numerous articles and books you can read on the individual thought processes of a person who identifies as a Democrat or a Republican. But, another excellent method is to simply ask them; of course, in a way that does not elicit their defensiveness but rather provides you with an understanding of how they think, and why? I’ve done that a lot with friends in both major parties since, being libertarian, I don’t fully identify with either.
Here’s a thought though. If the very idea of asking a D (if you’re an R) or an R (if you’re a D) causes you defensiveness or even a feeling of anger, please understand that this will not be productive in terms of gaining insight. And, if your goal is to influence that person to consider your viewpoint, then you must be able to first understand it (remember, understanding is not the same as agreeing) from their side.
In other words, you must be able to understand why they see themselves as the protagonist, not the antagonist you believe they are.
Interesting is that the way you see them is most likely the way they see you. And, once you understand them better, perhaps they’ll understand you better.
Next step: Once you’ve completed this “political” exercise, begin to do this with others you find difficult to understand and relate to.
Can understanding why your antagonist sees themselves as the protagonist in their own story make you a much more effective communicator, friend, family member, coworker, supervisor, salesperson, customer, leader, etc?
What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts, opinions, and examples with us.