I recently watched an amazing mussar series.
Karate isn't exactly my thing. But, like many people who grew up in the 80s, I watched and loved The Karate Kid. The nice kid - awkward, poor and scrawny Daniel Larusso - is bullied by the mean kid; handsome, wealthy jock Johnny Lawrence. But then Daniel learns karate from wise mentor Mr. Miyagi, and defeats Johnny in the All-Valley Karate championships! It was an immensely satisfying tale for teenagers.
Recently a sequel series was made, called Cobra Kai. It features the original actors - Ralph Macchio and William Zabka - and is thus set an astonishing thirty-four years later! But what's really incredible is what they did with the storyline.
Naturally, Daniel and Johnny are training the next generation. So you'd expect that Daniel, as the hero, is training the good kid, and Johnny, as the bully, is training the bad kid. But the series flips that. Johnny is the one training the good kid, and Daniel the bad kid!
But Cobra Kai goes much further. It spends most of the time presenting things from Johnny's perspective.
For thirty-four years, one thing that we've known for sure is that Daniel was the good guy and Johnny was the bad guy. But the sequel flips that on its head. Sure, Johnny is no tzaddik, but he's a sympathetic character. He had a rough home life. He became a bully because he himself was bullied by his stepfather. And his version of what happened back in 1984 is very different from Daniel's version. The way he saw it, Daniel was trying to steal his girlfriend, and often provoked him.
Since then, after struggling with alcohol and employment problems, Johnny is making a sincere effort to get his life back together, including training bullied kids who need self-confidence. Daniel, meanwhile, has a successful personal and professional life, and is basically a good guy, but is way too smug and vindictive, and not willing to see that Johnny might be a better person than he remembers.
The mussar lesson here is powerful. First, there's the way in which we can be certain about a person for literally decades, and then turn out to be wrong. Second is how Daniel and Johnny, despite both being basically decent people, are still stuck with their childhood prejudices and are each convinced that the other is awful beyond redemption. The show portrays how each of them views everything that the other does through the lens of their experience as teenagers. Instead of being able to get along as old acquaintances, and to grow together, they keep spiraling downwards due to their conviction that the other is evil and must be taken down.
This is a point that I've been trying to make in this forum for several months now. As a non-American, I have the benefit of a certain detachedness from US politics, like the viewer of Cobra Kai. It makes it possible to see clearly how partisanship and tribalism influence people to interpret everything that the other side does in the worst possible light. I've been trying to encourage people to try to look at things from the perspective of others, but with limited effect.
The main argument that I use is as follows: If many people that you otherwise regard as basically good people see things so entirely differently from you, then surely there must be some merit in their perspective, even if they are ultimately wrong? I mean, I am sympathetic to why charedim are opposed to IDF service (it's not because they think that Torah protects, it's because it fundamentally threatens their way of life) and I can even understand why the charedi Gedolim banned my books. Surely if tens of millions of people view things very differently from you, including plenty of people from your own background and social circles, then one should try to understand their perspective and not condemn them as utterly foolish/ evil?
If nothing that I wrote convinces you, then maybe try watching Cobra Kai.
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