One of the greatest gifts the Star Wars Trilogy has given me and my sons is Darth Vader. From an early age, my sons always wanted to know who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. Darth Vader was both.
Anakin Skywalker was a good guy who becomes Darth Vader because of hatred and anger. When Darth Vader finally takes off his mask in The Empire Strikes Back, we see who he really is: a loving, imperfect father who sacrifices for his children. Luke Skywalker’s acceptance of Darth Vader can be seen as an acceptance of the dark side of men—hatred and anger.
Now, when my sons ask me who is the bad guy, I always reply, “There are no good guys or bad guys—Only good people who make bad decisions.” This makes me feel better inside because, like Anakin Skywalker, I’ve made bad decisions in my life, often in rages of anger and hatred.
When I was a young boy, I screamed at my next door neighbor’s mother, “I hate you.”
She screamed back, “I hate you, too, you little shit!”
I can still feel the shock and pain in that statement. How could an adult hate an innocent child like me? Was I really a “little shit”?
Just recently, when I wouldn’t go out and buy my 7 year old son bacon for breakfast, he screamed, “No, Daddy. I want you to go away. Stupid Daddy.”
I almost lost it when I heard this. Anger and hatred rushed through my body. Luckily, I was able to clear it before I took the wooden spoon I was holding and broke it over my son’s backside.
The lesson I’ve learned from Star Wars and life is that we need to have the capacity to embrace hatred and contempt. Jesus said it clearly, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the instance with my son, these words were literal—I, as a father, needed to forgive my son for he knew not what he was saying.
Punishing, shaming, or reacting to my son’s anger would have only driven him towards the Dark Side of the Force. He might have felt the same unworthiness that I felt when my neighbor’s mother called me a “little shit.”
The ability to embrace contempt serves us in all relationships. Marriage expert, John Gottman argues that contempt is one of the “Four Horsemen” that can predict divorce in a marriage. Contempt often leads to criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling—the other three horsemen of divorce.
To be honest, my wife has a lot of contempt for me. She hates the financial bind I put our family in; she hates the mistakes I made before we were married; she hates my cooking; she hates my mother; she hates what I do for a living.
I used to confront this contempt with righteous indignation. “How dare you criticize my role as a father. Don’t you know how much I do for you and the boys each and every day?”
What I found is that the more I confronted her on this contempt, the more she became Darth Vader. She even breathed loudly while stomping around the house complaining about all the things I did wrong.
My new strategy is to embrace this contempt because I know that deep below my angry wife is an innocent Jedi who just wants to be understood and loved.
When my son screamed out, “Stupid Daddy,” he was just trying to be heard and loved in the form of bacon for breakfast. When I told my neighbor, “I hate you,” I was feeling unloved and misunderstood. When Anakin killed all the Sandpeople, he was mourning the loss of love in the form of Padme Amidala.
Hatred and anger are rooted in a need to be understood and loved. Embracing contempt gives back the love that is lacking. Like the song says, “Love is the answer.” Or in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I’m not sure if this is a lesson I learned too late to save my marriage, but I do know that it is the only response to contempt and anger that makes any sense. I invite you to try it in your relationships—intimate, social, and political.