Dirty Harry, Wolverine, Richard B. Riddick, Jack Sparrow. These are just a few examples of pop culture figures we’ve dubbed as “antiheroes.” These characters share traits that deviate from the more idealistic hero stereotype. While antiheroes do ultimately help others, they do so in ways that—to the outside observer—seem selfish, chaotic, and even nihilistic.
Rather than serve as paragons of “honorable” behavior and optimism, antiheroes are often depicted as pessimistic and of questionable moral character. They are willing to bend or even break rules in order to accomplish their goals. Above all, they are flawed, just like any other human being.
The antihero is often thought of as a recent invention. In truth, the archetype is nothing new in mythology. Yet, the increasing popularity of flawed protagonists is no fluke. Their foibles and failings make antiheroes very relatable to modern men, who live in an age of unprecedented personal freedom and shifting definitions of masculinity.
So, what can men today learn from antiheroes?
You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
The image of the infallible hero is, well, a fallacy. In fact, many mythological heroes were deeply flawed. Take Hercules, for example. He was tricked by the goddess Hera into killing his family, proving he was far from omnipotent. It was this inciting incident that sent him on his famous twelve labors, which was really a journey of atonement.
The moral? Failure is a part of life. It is the spark that precedes great accomplishment. Disappointment, embarrassment, and anger at oneself can be great motivators, if you don’t simply wallow in them. Don’t fall prey to indulgent self-pity. You do yourself and the world a disservice by trying to avoid taking chances. Perfection is stagnation. To take action is to risk failure, but it’s also the only real path to success.
We All Contain Darkness and Light
We’ve all done things of which we’re not proud. We all have negative mental chatter arising from our instinct-driven “monkey minds.” We’ve all had thoughts that stray into worrisome territory. These things are normal results of our biology and our upbringing. As long as we’re not acting on our darkest desires, there’s no harm that arises from these fleeting notions. Don’t convict yourself for being a “thought criminal.”
The darkness within us is not a monster to be slain. You might as well cut off a limb. Rather, our dark side must be tamed. We do this by acknowledging the monster, accepting it as part of ourselves. Issues arise when we reject our shadow and treat it as an alien invader. Trying to exorcise your inner demons will only piss them off! The key is integration of your darkness, not separation.
You must also remember to give thanks for your positive traits as well. Celebrate what is right about you, instead of just worrying about what is “wrong.” Above all, remember that very few of us are only “good” or “bad.” We all contain a shifting balance of virtues and vices. This dynamic tension is a part of every human. The more you make peace with this truth of our being, the less inner conflict you’ll feel.
Make Peace with Your Past and Move On
Yes, you should feel remorse for harmful things you’ve done. Embracing your darkness doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for your actions. However, there is no redemption to be found in eternal self-flagellation. You cannot beat yourself into better behavior. At some point, punishment must give way to rehabilitation.
We can’t go back in time and change our actions in the physical world. But we can go back in our minds, and forgive ourselves for what we’ve done. The past is dead. All you can do is take advantage of the present and commit to being better in the future. If you can’t directly atone to the people you’ve hurt, you can at least commit to being better to others going forward.
Again, it’s normal and healthy to have regrets. But we must come to terms with our past actions, then move forward with life. The path of redemption is a true hero’s journey, during which we change from transgressor to someone worthy of self-esteem and the respect of others. We must give ourselves the chance to become better people. That won’t happen if we don’t show ourselves some kindness and forgiveness.
Got Writer’s Block?
We are a participatory media company. Join us.
Participate with the rest of the world, with the things you write and the things you say, and help co-create the world you want to live in.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group, and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.