“Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” – Galinda, Wicked (the musical)
Are you tired of being a goody-two-shoes hero and having nobody notice? Do your greatest deeds seem to have no effect at all?
Maybe you need a change. Maybe it’s time to be wicked.
Not Good Enough
“No good deed goes unpunished; that’s my new creed.” – Elphaba in Wicked
The Law of Unintended Consequences warns us that any action we take can lead to unexpected – and sometimes disastrous – results. Help a little old lady across the street? Bad move, kid. You’ll probably both get hit by a drunk driver. If that doesn’t end your adventuring career, the little old lady will probably decide it’s all your fault and sue you.
Give money to a beggar? Please! Most of those guys park their Mercedes around the corner and make a fortune out of weak-willed wimps like you. A cop in L.A. once told me that the guy who I just tipped for washing my windshield makes over $100,000 a year doing that. And he probably collects welfare too. Stop supporting those leeches and maybe some of them will get jobs. The rest will starve. See? A much easier solution to the problem.
If every good deed you attempt turns sour, maybe they aren’t quite as good as you think they are. Maybe you can do more good by turning wicked.
“That government is best which governs least.” – Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
“Ain’t no freedom here, not unless you take it, ain’t no justice here, unless you make it all.” – Leslie Fish, “No High Ground”
Thoreau and many others have argued that we cause more harm than good by supporting an unjust government. He felt that he could not in good conscience pay the poll tax – even if most of it paid for worthwhile programs – as long as any of it was spent on the Mexican-American War or on supporting slavery. Thoreau was willing to pay a tax for a specific useful purpose, such as highway taxes that were used to improve local roads. But he would not pay a penny that might be used for anything he considered evil. Thoreau believed in passive resistance, even in living a simpler lifestyle so that you won’t earn enough to be taxed.
Almost 100 years after the Civil War, blacks in the American South were still treated as second-class citizens. If one white person got on a crowded bus in Alabama, black passengers were required to empty an entire row of seats and stand so that the white passenger would not have to sit with blacks.
Then on December 1, 1955, one woman changed the rules. Rosa Parks had recently attended a talk on civil disobedience and refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. She paid a price – She was arrested and fined, and later lost her job. But her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a key moment in the civil rights movement.
When Martin Luther King was later arrested for “hindering a bus” based on his support of the boycott, he said, “I was proud of my crime. It was the crime of joining my people in a nonviolent protest against injustice.” King was a fan of Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, and he didn’t just read the words. He acted on the principles he believed in.
The bad guys can handle a few dissidents, but when a protest turns into a movement, and the movement becomes the majority, there comes a tipping point. The rockslide turns into an avalanche. But first some people need to be wicked enough to resist authority. And then the people who agree with them, but don’t want to rock the boat, need to start rocking anyway. Change is never easy.
“To those who’d ground me, take a message back from me. Tell them how I’m defying gravity.” – Elphaba
Stop and think about the great heroes of the past. Were they conformists, playing by the rules and doing what they were told? Hell no!
For every goodness-and-light Mother Teresa, the list of heroes includes multiple lawbreakers and outright criminals. Robin Hood “robbed from the rich”. Mahatma Gandhi based his philosophy on Thoreau; he used passive resistance and civil disobedience to break India free from British rule and to make major changes in Indian society. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin? The U.S. was founded on civil disobedience and armed revolt.
How about Batman as the Dark Knight? Rambo? Dirty Harry? We love heroes who break the rules.
You think you know the story of William Tell, who famously shot an apple off his son’s head. But why did he take that risk? He refused to bow to the overlord’s hat in the town square, and the overlord – Albrecht Gessler – decided to make an example of Tell. Later, Tell used the same crossbow to kill Gessler, sparking a rebellion that led to Switzerland’s independence from Austria. One man took action and became the tipping point of a revolution.
When you know the rules are wrong, it’s time to stop playing by them. Sometimes it just takes one match to light the fires of change. Listen to your conscience and act on what you hear.
No One Mourns the Wicked
“No one mourns the wicked. Through their lives, our children learn – what they miss, when they misbehave” – Chorus in Wicked
A successfully wicked life won’t come easy. You may find that you are an outcast from society, and that people are hunting you with torches and pitchforks. You have to accept that your civil disobedience may make you extremely unpopular.
I was inspired to write this article by the musical theater version of Wicked, based on a popular novel by Gregory Maguire. That book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is in turn based on L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the Wizard of Oz film. I’ve read Maguire’s book, but it was the musical that really brought the story to another level.
Wicked is about two teenage girls, Galinda and Elphaba, who become College roommates at Shiz University in Oz. You know them better as Glinda the Good Witch and The Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda is the popular, beautiful blonde who plays by the rules, while Elphaba is the ugly outcast who has always had to fight to survive.
The book and play are from Elphaba’s viewpoint and question what it means to be wicked. In fact, Elphaba’s “wickedness” is really her uncompromising idealism and her resulting civil disobedience. The Wizard of Oz is suppressing the intelligent animals of Oz (among others), and Elphaba embarks on a “terrorist” campaign to rescue them and restore them to positions of respect. As a result, Elphaba is vilified and cast as a “wicked witch”. She comes to accept and glory in the title once she realizes that her attempts to play by the rules and “do good” are just not enough in the face of an unjust society.
“All right, enough – So be it, so be it, then: Let all Oz be agreed I’m wicked through and through. . . I promise no good deed will I attempt to do again, ever again.” – Elphaba, “No Good Deed”, Wicked
“I’m through accepting limits, ’cause someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change, but ’til I try I’ll never know.” – Elphaba
Society’s rules have a purpose, but often that purpose gets twisted by foolish, short-sighted, or simply evil people. Really, who knows better what rules you should follow? Some politician in the capitol, or you?
And why stop with government ordinances? Nature’s laws may not be breakable, but they’re certainly subject to reinterpretation. Is the “Law of Gravity” holding you down? Try defying it with a balloon, or a glider, a helicopter, or a rocketship. Newton’s three laws of thermodynamics? Maybe in the long run you can’t win, break even, or even get out of the game, but that can take a long time. We’ve learned a lot about bending the properties of matter and energy by refusing to accept the basic laws of physics as givens.
If you want to be more than an ordinary man or woman, you need to stop putting limits on yourself. Think about what you could accomplish if you broke all the rules, or at least a few that are holding you back. Aim for the sky and beyond; there’s a whole Universe out there with different rules, and maybe places just waiting for you to make your own rules… then break them too.
Is the wicked life right for you? Until you try, you’ll never know.
“Knowledge is power, and power corrupts. So study hard and be evil!” – (Unknown via The Paper)