The four basic characters: the Victim, the Spectator, the Villain, and the Hero

The 1966 western film, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” is considered by many to be a classic move based on only three character types. We can discuss the several character types within a story but for simplicity sake, let’s focus on grouping every type into just four characters – the victim, the spectator, the villain, and the hero. It has been suggested by many great philosophical and psychological minds that “we are the stories we tell ourselves” (Psychology today, Positive, quote of the day, Joe, Leadership). A “story” as defined by the dictionary is a narrative, an account of incident(s) or event(s).

 If someone you just met were to ask you to tell them your story, what would you say? How much of your story you told would depend on how much time you had, the setting of the interaction, and various other factors (e.g. the person asking, who else might be listening, etc.).

Being a single parent, multibusiness owner, ultra distance runner, and weight lifter, I often find myself having to simplify complex subjects into basic elements. This is mostly for the sake of time management and to be mindful of my limited focus/effort towards the task at hand.

In simplifying things for my children, I often remind them that to any story or situation there are always four characters. In using the basic characters listed in the first paragraph and condensing their role qualities, the first three are the easiest to play and chronologically often happen in sequential order (recall simplicity).

A great story never began with “everything was wonderful and stayed wonderful, the end”. Typically a great story begins with a dilemma, a problem, a challenge, or an obstacle. So let’s begin our narrative with discussing the role of the victim and work our way up.

A victim is someone who was taken advantage of by the villain. The victim SHOULD be helped by the spectator, any spectator, who by the act of helping can become the hero. The victim can remain the victim even when the situation has passed. But once the situation has passed, they can now play the other three depending on how they allow the situation to change their outlook of what just happened.

The victim, as with any one, has a need to understand what just happened in order to move on. But rationalizing can only take two roads. In order to move on, we must first make a justification of what happened. “They must have had a bad day so they were upset”, “they are just jerks so they did a jerk thing”, or “I’m mad so now I want others to be mad with me” are just some examples of the inner dialog the victim tells themselves on their way to choosing their next role.

The dialog can lead them down a path where they will continue to be victimized and thus giving power to the villain by either staying a victim or internalizing the pain of what they experienced on their way to becoming a villain themselves. “Misery loves company”, “It was done to me so now I’m going to do it to you”, are just a few quotes we’ve all heard.

Enter the hero. The hero is the most difficult to understand as it requires the greatest amount of effort. The villain does not need help nor do they need more company. Their role is easy, it’s simple, it’s driven by ego, self preservation (via justification), and many of the vices that keep reinforcing the evil cycle that has consumed them. They are not in control; rather it is the illusion of control that drives them.

The hero on the other hand, can be very handwork, if not impossible at times. It takes planning, great focus, time, resiliency (Mayo, Henderson, Dr. Paul, APA), resourcefulness, self sacrifice, and dedication to a cause much greater than he or she. The list can go on. Hero’s by nature are often outcast due to their qualities. However, being different by virtue is not a bad thing. Their virtuous qualities help them to see things from a special vantage point.

Any one of these four roles can transform themselves into any of the others. Likewise, any situation has the potential to transform their roles. They can progress or retrograde. An old Native American tale speaks of a battle between a good wolf and a bad wolf. The one who will win is the one you feed the most.

The best movies, literature, or real life stories we deem as GREAT, are always hero focused and not necessarily about the other characters.

Why do you think that is so? A much better question and one that you have the greatest control over is…..

Which wolf will you choose to feed today?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *