Sunday’s Wisdom #91: The Rationale of the Guilty

“Look, everybody wants everything! That’s the way the world is! But I might actually get it!”
– Jigo, Princess Mononoke

Most of the quotes I share are inspirational, spoken by people who have learned through experience how to get by, how to live right. This one is sort of the opposite of that.

Coming right at the climax of my personal favorite Ghibli movie, we have seen what Jigo the monk is willing to do. A number of people have died over the course of the movie: men, women, children, animals, enemies, allies, friends, it doesn’t matter. Many of them might have been spared if not for Jigo’s gold-crazed scheming. He believes he’s found a way to make an emperor immortal, for which the emperor has promised an entire hill of gold. Jigo really wants that gold, and so he’s embarked on a bold, ambitious, blood-stained scheme that blows up in his face. The result is a veritable slaughter. Even now, at this moment in the movie, death is on his very heels, and still he’s trying to get the gold.

He’s stopped, in the end, but not for lack of trying, and the cost is high.

To justify everything he’s done and everything that has been lost, he points to “the world.” Like most people who do terrible things for petty, self-serving reasons, Jigo tries to evade responsibility. He casts the blame on everyone and everything around him. He’s not a bad person, he’s just trying to get by, you see. He’s not so terrible, he’s just doing what everybody else does, pursuing a life of luxury at any cost. The only thing that sets him apart is the possibility of success, he argues.

Sound familiar? “Everybody does it,” they always say to justify their sins.

He might have a point, of course. We do all have things that we want, things which are “everything” to us. And sometimes we go to extremes in pursuit of these things. Sometimes we collide with others and conflict ensues. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, and sometimes we are defeated. The world is filled with competing people with competing desires.

But where he is wrong is where people will stop. Not everyone will pursue their dreams heedless of the cost. Not everyone values what they want above their own lives or the lives of other people. Not everyone is without limit in what they want and what they will do to get it.

Jigo and those like him fail to see that not “everybody does it,” as proven by the ones standing in his way, risking their lives to fix what he has broken. In embracing the worst of humanity with themselves, they’ve blinded themselves to the better aspects of human nature.

That is a sad way to live and die.

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