My Favorite Villain

The original Karate Kid features one of the great villains of classic cinema. Johnny Lawrence, portrayed by William Zabka, is a stereotypical 1980’s bad guy.

Lawrence is California-surfer cool, handsome, wealthy and popular. He and the rest of the Cobra Kai dojo ruthlessly bully and menace Daniel LaRusso throughout the movie, only to be rebuffed in a classic scene at the end.

In Netflix’s Cobrai Kai series, Zabka revisits the Johnny Lawrence character after almost 35 years. In the gap between, Lawrence’s life has not gone well. He’s divorced, estranged from his son, can’t hold a job, and drinks heavily.

Daniel LaRusso might just call it karma.

But, in this continuation of the story, something interesting happens. For the first time, we see the original Karate Kid story told from the perspective of Johnny.

And, in Johnny’s version, Daniel is the villain. For fans of the original movie, Johnny’s perspective is a stretch – to say the least. It relies heavily on selective memory, distortion of events, and fundamental attribution error.

It might seem laughable at first, but there’s an important lesson here. It is this: No one is ever the bad guy in their own narrative. And, most people can rationalize almost any behavior to create a story where they’re the suffering victim or righteous hero.

What does that mean? In any disagreement, the other guy is just as sure you’re in the wrong as you are that he is. And, anchoring to “being right” isn’t going to help either of you find a resolution.

If you’re trying to move past a difficult situation, treating the bad guy like a bad guy is rarely going to get you very far.

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