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Rousseau Was Right
"It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

In this setting, everyone is born as a moral Blank Slate (or tabula rasa, as John Locke put it), with a natural inclination to goodness. All villains in such a setting are a product of environmental influences, such as upbringing, society, or maybe just an unlucky spot of brain damage. Of course, this doesn't stop good characters from being Well Intentioned Extremists or otherwise having viewpoints and goals that bring them into conflict with other good characters.

This isn't to say that evil doesn't exist in such a universe — it does, and regardless of their excuses, people (or aliens; Rousseau probably wouldn't discriminate) who do bad things still bear full responsibility for their actions. However, since nobody is naturally evil, some spark of goodness will tend to remain within even the most black-hearted of characters; redemption is always a possibility in such a universe, although it may not be easy.

Settings in which Rousseau was right always avert In the Blood, Moral Event Horizon and Complete Monster. On the rare occasions when characters who would be regarded as Complete Monsters in other settings do show up, their unrealized potential for good and the depths to which they have fallen instead are usually played up as tragic.

It should be noted that the Trope Namer Jean-Jacques Rousseau did not philosophize that humans in their natural state were actually "good", but rather humans who are without a social contract have no morality/concept of good and evil and as such, will act in their own self interest but cannot do so maliciously—that is to say, that people are naturally innocent in the same way we understand children to be.

Hanlon's Razor and Grey's Law present an interesting related notion: assume an action arises from stupidity or ignorance until it is proven to be intentional evil, and that sufficiently misguided actions are indistinguishable from actual evil. Thus, "innocent" and "harmless" are not the same: from this viewpoint, it's not so much "Kids Are Cruel" as Kids are Obliviously Evil. Although it's not truly evil to err or make a mistake without desiring another person to suffer, it's effectively harmful as well. Thus, it can be inferred that, in truth, people being born innocent as we understand infants to be, whether or not they're capable of unwittingly causing harm, and only later being truly evil as a result of corrupting themselves with self-interest and greed, is true in accordance with this trope; for people to cease to value others' well-being for whatever reason, and desire what's worst for others, is the point at which they are evil. Desiring the suffering of another can also be evil in two different ways: people can be actively evil and hate another person (or other people) by desiring that they suffer, or people can be passively evil and not care about others' well-being, which is just as evil.

Compare Humans Are Good. Contrast Hobbes Was Right, Humans Are Bastards, and Humans Are the Real Monsters. See also Default To Good, Blank Slate, Conditioned to Accept Horror, More Than Mind Control, Nurture Over Nature, Stockholm Syndrome and Then Let Me Be Evil.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the penultimate episode of Code Geass, this is Lelouch's understanding of things; he argues that people are born of an innocent nature, desiring only well-being. As Schneizel explains, he's presenting an argument that can easily be used against himself in that, in order to accomplish what he deems to be best for everyone, he violates human souls by forcing them to act against their will, and, yet, he seeks to affirm that the human nature he's been oppressing over the course of the entire show is just and, in the end, will emerge in a better world for everyone. He then points out that humanity's desire for good results in greed, which ironically leads to people hating each other (desiring what's worst for others to befall each other), which is the cause of all crime and wrongdoing, and, consequently, suffering. Schneizel's intent is to end suffering by preventing crime from being committed by ruling through fear as a god (which demonstrates some similarities between him and Light Yagami). This desire to be worth more than anyone else (for which he's less similar to Light in that he's not so deluded as to want to rule the world just to feel worth more than anyone else, but as a result of altruistic motives, with an understanding of what things amount to for other people; this also proves a point in that Schneizel is only doing what he thinks is right because what he values most is himself, and that he's only suppressing people's actions in an endeavor to give people what they want without truly wanting what's best for others or having any regard for their well-being, doing what people want of him rather than what's best for them, and ending suffering by ruling through fear without giving a damn about whether or not people even care about each other in the end, whereas Lelouch wishes to rule the world for the sake of human compassion, so that every injustice that has ever been committed and every loss that's been endured won't have been for nothing, and so that people will realize what truly matters; that they should value each other instead of taking advantage of each other for the sake of themselves, so that no one would ever desire for another person to suffer again), for which he would rather die than lose, is precisely why he loses.
  • By the end of Fruits Basket, the only person who can even be considered a villain at all is Ren, and she's certifiably insane. Even she garners a little bit of sympathy with her Angsty Backstory.
    • Kyo's biological father would be a closer subversion. While he's obviously not the most mentally stable person in the world (suffering from paranoid delusions), he's still in control of himself, and given that he never changes his utter disgust and fear of his son, and is heavily implied to have been the one who really drove Kyo's mother to suicide, he stands out for lacking any sympathetic qualities. Close runners-up would be Rin's parents; while they only appear once, their abrupt Despair Event Horizon is never explained, and their malicious neglect of their daughter thereafter contributed to her health problems even before Akito got involved.
  • Mazinger Z: the "Theme of Z" seems to think Rousseau Was Right. Kouji and his friends meet many people behave like jerks but deep down are not bad people, and Big Bad Dr. Hell's reasons for being evil are he was The Woobie when he was young. However, this series somehow manages mixing this trope with Humans Are Bastards.
  • In Medaka Box, this is a major part of the series. Almost all of Medaka's True Companions, including some that are introduced as protagonists right off the bat, were once her enemies.
    • It's brought Up to Eleven during the Student Council Election arc. Medaka openly admits that she's unsure of whether she can save the leader of Class Minus 13.
      • She does save him in the end though. He even joins the student council!
  • My Neighbor Totoro was intended as an embodiment of this trope. Other Studio Ghibli works tend to have at least a nod towards it.
  • Princess Mononoke beautifully carries out this trope. The humans and the forests all harbor understandable, sometimes irrational hostility against each other. Yet they have intentions that see for the better.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne has the good guys and the Well-Intentioned Extremist antagonists. It does have Dilandau but he is the inverted personality of Celena Schezar, Allen's "dead little sister". Which makes Celena, the opposite to Dilandau in every way, likely the nicest person in the entire world, while Dilandau cannot be counted since he is not a human being found normally in nature.
  • Dr. Tenma operates on this principle at the beginning of Monster. The main conflict of the series is Tenma's idealism versus Johan's nihilism. In the end, Tenma's idealism wins out, as he saves Johan's life.
  • Yoshiyuki Tomino's Brain Powerd is a series in which no one is truly, completely evil. The Reclaimers are dangerous, but misguided, and people always have a reason why they act a certain way. Yes, even the show's resident Smug Snake Jonathan has some good in him that can be brought out. If Victory Gundam was the work of a depressed man, Brain Powerd is the work of a man who has overcome his depression.
  • At least a few episodes per series of the Pokémon anime, as well as the first movie, are devoted to the theme of "there are no bad Pokémon, only mean/abusive/neglectful trainers." The implication is that bad people as well are just the result of a bad upbringing.
  • The manga Rave Master largely supports this view. Many villains execute a Heel-Face Turn sometime after their defeat, and even the ones who don't generally have a Freudian Excuse. Of course, there's little indication that the countless Mooks and Elite Mooks Haru and company mow down like weeds have any sort of redeeming qualities, but that's because they don't count.
  • With The Light has a lot of this. While there are people who are insensitive or antagonistic towards the autistic Hikaru or his mother's struggles in raising him, you can count the people who do so entirely out of spite on one hand. Most everyone else is just uneducated about Autism.
  • Mashina Hiro's next work, Fairy Tail, largely continues these trends (minus the mooks thing). Perhaps best demonstrated in the Cursed Island Arc, which ends with the main villain getting past the baggage he had from his former master and fellow students and reforming along with his entire team.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! fits the trope. Many people like fighting, but the only really Evil person seems to be Chachazero, a powerless doll of Evangeline's. Even demons are quite decent people. Poor Communication Kills and Cycle of Revenge provide a steady supply of conflict, through. A lot of antagonists could've pulled Negi to their side if they bothered to explain their goals. Although even Chachazero has been able to show restraint, at the end of the Kyoto arc she just scares Chigusa so badly that she faints, as opposed to using her freaking huge knife to actually do some damage. Special mention goes to the Lifemaker's puppets, who geniunely believe they are doing the right thing because all except Fate are programmed to be loyal to their creator. The only one who is kind of a dick about it is Secundum, who got on the Lifemaker's nerves so much that he specifically created Fate without unlimited loyalty and zeal. The only character who's outright evil with no Anti-Villain tendencies or Freudian Excuse of some kind is Psycho Lesbian / Blood Knight Tsukuyomi, who has some serious issues regarding Setsuna (and is generally Joker-level insane).
  • Real Drive is made of this.
  • Most of Kimi ni Todoke's supporting characters are popular girls and jock guys who befriend the shy, outcast protagonist without any ulterior motive (unless there's an out-of-left-field scheme coming)
  • Kero Kero Chime comes pretty close. There's only one human in the entire series that's actually evil, with most of the conflicts coming from misunderstandings or well-meaning efforts. The track record is similarly good for non-humans: Although his minions are pretty nasty, even the Demon King himself turns out to be not that bad — he's completely reformed by the time the main cast meets up with him.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion. No, seriously. The series may be best known for its ruthless cynicism, bleak tone and disturbing content, but some reading between the lines reveals the conclusion to suggest that all human beings really want is to be loved and accepted, and that the things they do, no matter how twisted, are merely the result of fear, self-hatred and lack of understanding for themselves and others.
  • In The Nineties anime, Sailor Moon lives and dies by her belief in this. She will never allow herself to believe that someone is beyond saving. She proves it true time and time again, as it is rare that a villain refuse to seek redemption.
    • In the original manga, a good portion of the villains are just outright evil, and it's rare that a villain get redeemed rather than summarily killed.
  • In all of Kyou Kara Maoh, there have been perhaps two BigBads that are not redeemed. One of them is literally Sealed Evil in a Can, and the other becomes a mindless puppet for said Sealed Evil in a Can.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, this trope is featured numerous times with Yugi Muto repeatedly believing that goodness resides in everyone and that their dark side needs to be defeated for this to become free. Examples include Dartz, Raphael, and Marik Ishtar while characters that independently seemed to change their ways and become good having been previously evil would include Pegasus and Valon. Seto Kaiba also tends to be obnoxious and mean a lot of the time while actually being shown to have decent values at heart, not least his love for his little brother Mokuba:
  • There are two major villains in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and both of them have good intentions: Lordgenome suppresses the growth of humanity in order to avoid getting the attention of the Anti-Spirals, who, in turn, want to destroy humanity in order to prevent them from destroying the universe through overuse of spiral energy.
    • Even though they have similar names, this is not Rossiu. Though it might be a call out, as Rossiu eventually learns a lesson and starts to believe more along the lines of this trope.
  • Like the main branch of the series, Sonic X has at least one moment that alludes to this; during the Metarex saga, the dub tries to explain Knuckles' getting tricked by Eggman by saying that he believes everybody is capable of good, or of turning over a new leaf. Considering the way he joined the cast, this is Fridge Brilliance... but only in the 4Kids dub, since the original presents us with a Family-Unfriendly Aesop instead.
  • In the first Fullmetal Alchemist anime, Wrath is a sweet young boy and doesn't become a raging psychopath until Envy feeds him some red stones, which seems to imply that the Philosopher's Stone is partly responsible for making the homunculi as evil and cruel as they are.
  • Naruto is all but constructed around this principle. It's made clear that the people of the other villages are no different than the people of Konoha, and that even the most vile villains of the series began as decent people who were driven to madness and cruelty by some horrible trauma. In fact the ultimate theme seems to be redeeming villains and ending the pointless cycle of hatred that was responsible for creating the various ninja wars and conflicts.

    Film 
  • Superman Returns: From the mouth of Superman's late father Jor-L: "They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son." Does any more need to be said?
  • In The Dark Knight, a recurring theme is the question of whether Humans Are Evil or Rousseau Was Right. The Joker preaches the former, that all humans are cowardly, cruel, self-serving and will happily slaughter each other to get to the top of the pile. To this end, near the end of the film, he sets up a social experiment to determine which. He rigs two ships with explosives, one ferrying innocent refugees and the other carrying convicts, with each ship having access to the other ship's detonator. If one blows up the other, that ship is allowed to leave. The Joker gives them 10 minutes to decide, and if no action is taken, the Joker will detonate the bombs on BOTH ships. Not only do they both defy the Joker and refuse to condemn the other to death, it's the convicts who refuse to do it first.
  • With the exception of the organ traders, this is the main tragedy of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. This fact makes the ensuing spiral of vengeance even more tragic.
  • The Venus Project, thoroughly discussed in the second Zeitgeist movie, is built around the assumption that greed, corruption, and ignorance are not intrinsic human qualities but were instead drilled into us by the harsh primeval environment and later, by our obsolete social institutions.
    • Which is kind of ironic, considering the movies themselves allege almost everything that ever happened is part of an evil conspiracy.
    • Even though it's not apparent in the first film, the combined message of movies is that conspiracies like those mentioned in the first film are naturally occurring in the world, due to the system based on people and groups fighting each other for every and any advantage they can get. And honestly, that view is actually quite logical. While it is insane to believe in every conspiracy out there, we should understand that secrecy, subversion, and sabotage are a big part of the world, and they always have been.
  • Casablanca. Everyone is a bright-eyed idealist disguised as a cynic— Rick the Knight in Sour Armor, Louis the Magnificent Bastard, even the local crime lord. Either that or a Nazi.
  • Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town: "There is no such thing as a bad boy."
  • This is the entire point of The Lives of Others: The main character is a Stasi agent named Wiesler in early 1980s East Germany, spying on a playwright suspected of Western sympathies. Wiesler is portrayed as torn between his loyalty to his job and his fundamental human sympathy with the target of his spying, and when the playwright conspires to write an article for the West German Der Spiegel about the high rate of suicide in East Germany, Wiesler does all kinds of things to keep his bosses from knowing.
  • The Green Goblin seems to think Humans Are Evil in the first Spider-Man movie, but is proven wrong when some very irate New Yorkers come to Spidey's aid.
    • In a bit of accidental Fridge Brilliance, the movie depicts NYC just after 9/11, where it was ill-advised to mess with New Yorkers.
  • Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies is a good example of this. He wasn't born evil, has a pretty decent Freudian Excuse and did a Heel-Face Turn at the end.
    • He's not the only one. Count Dooku was a former Jedi, and thinks the Empire will be better for the galaxy. The Separatists have their own reasonable gripes with the Republic. General Grievous has had his planet devastated by the Huk, and the Republic didn't help his planet out because it was of little use to him. Even Darth Maul has excuse of being taken as a baby and forced under extreme circumstances to be living weapon. The only main villain exception is Palpatine.
  • The Anti-Nazism speech made by Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, in which Chaplin tells the audience, "You have the love of Humanity in your hearts! You don't hate! Only the unloved hate! The unloved and the unnatural."
  • World War Z has a number of instances where people unite and support and help each other during the outbreak. The biggest example of this is in Israel, where a huge crowd of many different nationalities and faiths join together in singing and prayer. It's quite a turn for a zombie movie, a genre famous for portraying human survivors as either expendable or as an even bigger threat than the zombies.

    Literature 
  • Star Wars again, specifically Grand Admiral Thrawn, who despite trying to conquer the galaxy and more-or-less single-handedly supporting the Imperial Remnant militarily speaking, was really just trying to unify the galaxy before the Yuuzhan Vong came.
    • The Yuuzhan Vong in turn; they were mostly peaceful before the war between two mechanical races (the Silentium and the Abominor) fought a war that ravaged their home world of Yuuzhan'tar. This gave the Yuuzhan Vong a crippling fear of machinery, and allowed them to build up a resistance, but at the cost of being cut off from the Force when they went too far.
  • Antoine de Saint Exupery.
  • Ben Bova's Voyagers II: The Alien Within: After waking from cryogenic suspension and rescue from an alien ship, astronomer Keith Stoner goes to a war-torn part of Africa, gathers the local leaders and hammers out a peace that's seemed impossible so far.
  • This is a huge theme that resonates through Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture.
  • In an odd hybrid, the Timeweb trilogy by Brian Herbert applies this to characters' thought processes (with exceptions for the occasional Mix and Match Critter or Eldritch Abomination), but has them act as if they were in a setting with Black and Grey Morality. This is justified: either they're culturally brainwashed into hating everyone who isn't of their own species, or they're facing off against those extremists and are forced to kill them.
  • Patricia A. McKillip's novels seem to feature this a lot, with The Tower at Stoney Wood as a particularly strong example.
  • Terry Pratchett has said that he doesn't believe people who can actually tell the difference between right and wrong would ever choose wrong. As a result, many if not all of his villains, particularly in the Discworld, are in some way deeply disturbed, if not outright insane.
    • Pratchett and Neil Gaiman made this observation in Good Omens
      "It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people."
  • Arguably, the Lord of the Rings. It appears to be black and white morality at first, but several points in the story suggest otherwise. Tellingly, Elrond's comment that no one is born evil, not even Sauron, and when they see the dead eastlander and wonder what caused them to do what they did. Moreover, in the appendices it clearly shows Sauron thought, at least at first, that he was in the right, which reeks of Rousseau Was Right.
    • Also, in Tolkien's universe, evil cannot create, it can only corrupt. Therefore, orcs are corrupted elves, trolls are corrupted ents, etc.
    • Even the Bigger Bad Melkor could be shown this way. Originally he just wanted to create new things of his own imagination just like the universe's creator, Eru. It was when his dreams of creation were denied him that he turned to petty destruction and corruption of the creations of others. Sauron, being originally a subordinate of Aule, the maker-god, and simply desired grander creation like Melkor did. Their hubris being denied to them led them down the path of darkness, out of jealousy of the creations of others.
    • Similarly Saruman seems to have started out wanting to help Middle-Earth. However due to Sauron's deceptions he ended up falling into evil, planning to join Sauron and betray him once he had the ring, using it to rule Middle-Earth himself.
  • In the novel Miracle Monday, Superman faces Saturn, an agent of Satan who is trying to break his morals by tricking him into killing an innocent girl. The hero responds by stating these beliefs - about the demon! Whether he was serious or was just Talking the Monster to Death (or both) isn't clear. (The demon was in fact, very much evil, but Supes still won the "game".)
  • The Coral Island. It's the book Lord of the Flies was basically written in response to, where the three boys stranded on the island live in perfect harmony, defeat a shark, stop some pirates, convert natives to Christianity and everything works out well (in fact, two of the main characters are called Ralph and Jack, the same as two main characters in Lord of the Flies).
  • Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern novels have a couple of evil characters (Fax, for one), but just about everyone is a decent human being (and all dragons are invariably good).
  • Janet Kagan's book Mirabile.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird: Although it's arguable whether this trope applies to the book as a whole, this conversation between Scout and Atticus at the very end is an example:
    Scout: (talking about a book read to her) Atticus, he was real nice...
    Atticus: Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.
  • Most of the human inhabitants on the titular island of Dinotopia are nice, accepting, happy, hardworking and productive members of society. Only two malcontents are seen; one of which wasn't is a Gentleman Thief who gives everything he steals from a previous victim to his next victim, and the other of which wasn't born on the island and doesn't even rate much worse than a Jerkass, despite being the Big Bad of two books.
    • Even more apparent in Dinotopia Lost, in which a crew of cutthroat pirates reform the very instant they come into contact with Dinotopian society.

    Live Action TV 
  • Any character in Community who seems like a jerk acts that way because of some form of rejection in the past, and possibly also in the present.
  • Doctor Who - The Doctor believes this... most of the time. Occasionally, the humans around him prove him wrong. Doesn't seem to stop him giving the Patrick Stewart speeches, though.
  • This is basically true across the board in Kingdom, and it works well.
  • In LOST, the character Rosseau is not mentally well, and later dead. She is also extremely mistrustful of... well, everyone. Take that as you will.
    • She is probably named Rousseau in honour not of this idea but his concept of the Noble Savage.
    • In Season 6, this idea is expanded upon. If Jacob is to be believed, part of his job on the island (aside from containing the Man in Black) is to demonstrate that yes, Rousseau Was Right, and people ultimately make good decisions.
  • This Trope is true for the most part in Power Rangers. Even the biggest Jerkasses tend to have a hidden heart of gold, and all but the most vile, over the top, and freaky looking villains tend to have their occasional Pet the Dog moments, if not an outright Heel-Face Turn.
  • In Season 5 of Supernatural, Gabriel gives a speech to this effect to Lucifer, telling him God was right about humans being the greatest of his creations, since unlike demons and angels they know they're flawed and try to overcome them.
  • The Vampire Diaries: A major recurring trope. Every villainous character seems to have some kind of damage going back to childhood, or at least young adulthood (which might as well be childhood for older-than-dirt vampires).
  • In Warehouse 13 H.G. Wells was originally a person who believed that humans were brilliant and the future would be an amazing place, but when her daughter was murdered she stopped believing in humans but still believed the future would be a utopia, only again to lose that faith when she wakes up in the 21st century and saw that things were worse.
    You know that I foolishly believed that if I could find a way to travel through time then things would have improved, a utopia would have emerged, but here we are over a century later and things have actually gotten worse!
    • More an illustration of the character's mental instability and fickleness than the character actually believing Rousseau was right, especially since most of her grounds for condemning humanity on the down-swings are, in fact, areas in which humanity has unarguably improved massively since the 1800s.

    Music 
  • John Lennon's Imagine.
  • Nickelback's If Everyone Cared.
  • A number of Eurovision songs.
  • 'Aordig Doen Tegen Mensen Die Niet Aordig Doen' is Exactly What It Says on the Tin ... if you speak Dutch, and even then, it's a very specific dialect... The singer basically says that you should be nice to people who aren't nice themselves, because they need it and didn't become that way because they wanted to.
  • The Chills' "Look fo the Good in Others." One of the most sincere and positive songs ever recorded by an indie band.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Pokémon generally goes off the idea that people are basically good and even evil masterminds can reform. (This is, after all, a world where parents apparently feel safe sending their 10-year-olds off into the wild blue yonder with only a single weak Pokémon to defend them.)
    • In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of Sky, this is Guildmaster Wigglytuff's personal belief: though there are plenty of criminals, there is no such thing as a truly bad Pokémon. In a way, he's proved right each time. Grovyle was good all along, Drowzee, Dusknoir, and the Sableye pull Heel Face Turns, Primal Dialga was just insane and very grateful to be returned to normal, Team Skull's last act is to return what they stole, Armaldo was really not all that bad, and Darkrai shows a capacity for good (after he gets amnesia, that is).
    • Even the various Big Bads of the games show this. Giovanni - despite his selfish motives - still faces his defeat with a degree of honor, the leaders of Team Aqua and Magma are both Well Intentioned Extremists that pull a Heel-Face Turn when they realize just how badly their plans backfire, even Cyrus is implied to have had a pretty horrible childhood, N is an Anti-Villain with his heart in the right place, and Lysandre's stated to have once tried to genuinely help people until he went insane due to being convinced of his own limitations and the stupidity of the human race. Ghetsis, however, has no excuse at all. Which has made him the most depraved of all Pokemon villains.
  • The first Mega Man Star Force game follows this trope to an extent. While there are some truly bad people (all but one of them are humans), including an unnamed person who took advantage of Brother Bonds just to steal somebody's invention, Chrys Golds, and Gemini, the Big Bad isn't one of them. The motivation of his actions stem from everybody on his planet, including his family, wanting to kill him to over take his throne. As a result of this, he was (with some assistance from Gemini) convinced that those from all other planets wanted to destroy him as well. Once Geo Stelar became his friend, he decided to repair the planet that he destroyed.
  • The Mother series. In MOTHER and Earthbound, the Big Bad, an Eldritch Abomination, is defeated by reminding him of the feeling of love; in Mother 3, the Big Bad never really repents but ends up happy with his fate, while The Dragon gives up thanks to the memory of his mother. Basically, The Power of Love and The Power of Friendship are always the final key to victory here. And it works.
  • There's no real antagonists in the Kirby series. Kirby's major opponents (like King Dedede and Meta Knight) are Well Intentioned Extremists who are willing to join forces with him on occasions. The rest are either Giant Space Fleas from Nowhere, or allies that go Face-Heel Turn at the last minute, and don't have any hard feelings with Kirby after their plan fails.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, a LS character with a high persuade can prove this trope works 60% of the time, as you can convince plenty of the Dark Side characters you speak with to put down the shiny red saber. Some, like Kel Algwinn and Juhani don't take much work at all, while others like Yuthra Ban and Bastila are a bit more of a crapshoot.
  • The default assumption behind the Sakura Taisen series seems to be that people are innately good, although they can end up going astray without the proper guidance — the Humongous Mecha teams are also actresses so they can promote and nurture the innate goodness within humanity through the magic of musical theater. The real villains are forces external to humanity, such as demons or undead Japanese warriors.
  • This is a philosophy used a few times in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, notably at the end of both of the titles in the Sonic Adventure series (Tails and Amy, respectively).
  • Metal Gear has this as a running theme. No matter how depraved a villain, they will either be a Well-Intentioned Extremist, or have a very elaborate Freudian Excuse. Psycho Mantis? Burned down his hometown as a child, and then was "infected" by the mind of a serial killer. Vamp? He was traumatically forced to drink his family's blood, and then his lover and the father of his best friend was murdered. Fatman? He was bullied all his life to the point where the only person he cared about was his bomb disposal instructor who he then sought to surpass. Ocelot tortures people and does what he does for love of Big Boss. The only truly evil character who doesn't have a tragic backstory explaining their villainy is Volgin, and even he has some leading dialogue about his relationship with his father, the inheritor of a cartoonishly large sum of money. Then there's Coldman who is a complete psycho who plans on inciting a nuclear war just to prove his point on human behavior.
  • As revealed in the NG+, almost all of the conflicts in NieR are a result of tragic misunderstandings, with several foes just having been trying to protect themselves/loved ones. In fact, the Big Bad who kidnapped your daughter/sister? He was just trying to save his. And was responsible for keeping the remnants of humanity sane.
  • In Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave, the culprits as it turns out were actually not bad people, they had just fallen on some bad times and tried to speed up the terms of an inheritance that would state that they would get land and money if the Hilihili research centre were to close, and had thought up a very thorough plan to cause the Hilihili research centre to close. Upon completion of the game, they immediately turn themselves into the authorities, and according to Nancy's monologue, it takes awhile for them to figure out just what exactly they did that was illegal.
    • The Haunting of Castle Malloy also likewise doesn't feature anyone genuinely evil, and is so far the only game that doesn't really have a culprit, as the culprit is a 70-or-so-year old feral woman flying around in a jetpack. It Makes Sense in Context.
    • Shadow at the Waters Edge. The culprit wasn't motivated by greed and while Rentaro's creations can potentially cause Nancy's death when they malfunction and pin her underwater, he only intended to scare her away so the Ryokan would close. He didn't want to do this out of malice, he simply felt the Ryokan was holding Miwako back and that they would have a better shot doing something much bigger. It's also implied that he has an Ambiguous Disorder, so he would have found it socially harder to tell Miwako his feelings.
  • Spec Ops: The Line for all its darkness, cynicism, and themes about human cruelty, has an example of this trope:
    Martin Walker: I-I didn't mean to hurt anybody...
    "Konrad" (Walker's feeling of guilt): No-one ever does, Walker.
  • In Mass Effect, this is the basic belief of a Paragon Shepard. Shepard knows that people are often selfish, cruel, and petty, but s/he also believes that most of them are trying to be better and they need the chance to do so, which is why s/he fights so hard for them. Mass Effect 3 contains numerous examples that show that s/he really has a point.

    Visual Novels 
  • Little Busters! generally argues this, but Kud and Haruka's routes make it explicit - Kud holds firm to her belief that there are no inherently bad people in the world even while chained up as a human sacrifice, while Haruka's route was largely driven by her hate for the people she believed had wronged her but in the end it turned out that, apart from the faceless people of her extended family, everyone around her was a good person and that all the terrible things that happened were unexpected consequences of well-intended actions. Realising that no-one around her is to blame is what finally allows her to accept her family and move on from her past.

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, After Tedd calls out half the school for making fun of Susan when she's the only one trying to change the uniforms, most of them are quick to apologize, with one saying that "we aren't a Borg Hive Mind." Earlier, when Grace runs out of class (due to not having heard of WWII) and is very embarrassed upon coming back, the other students are quick to offer their condolences over her leading such a sheltered life, and are angry at the people who subjected her to that rather than her. In fact, this comic demonstrates in many places that, with a few exceptions, high school students aren't the bastards that most media would have us believe. They're just normal people, with basically good natures.
    • At one point the Alpha Bitch (who seemed to be a textbook case of that trope) showed genuine concern for one of her henchgirls.
  • Freefall is set on a planet where artificial intelligences (mostly robots) have unexpectedly become sapient without the humans around them being aware of it, as the planet is still being terraformed, and most robots live their lives with fairly minimal human supervision. There's a great deal of worry among them about how humans will react when it all comes to light, and a Corrupt Corporate Executive who is trying to do away with them entirely for his own reasons. But most of the population is oblivious to the entire conflict, and much like in this strip, most other humans seem pretty reasonable about the whole concept.
  • The Dragon Doctors tends to take this attitude. Most problems the Dragon Doctors encounter derive from either chance events or well-meaning accidents (or both), and most of the actual villains that cross their path have histories that explain what drove them there, demonstrate redemptive traits, or both.
  • Girl Genius has the legendary Heterodyne Boys, Bill and Barry, a pair of White Sheep from a very long line of otherwise mad deranged sparks leading a rogue state. They always were fair, always appealed to the better nature in people, and always won. Bill is the father of Agatha, the titular girl genius of the series, and she's inherited her father's Chronic Hero Syndrome (as well as his brand of spark).
    • For that matter, quite a few sparks are portrayed as being literally unable to help but tinker and experiment if they see (or think they see) a way to improve something. Even if the thing in question is a device for killing a lot of people really fast. Several of the outright antagonists seem to be basically applying the same principle to politics ("The world is a mess, and I just need to rule it.") as opposed to being actually evil (there are a couple who seem to qualify for that label, though). Even the mad Heterodynes are/were loved passionately by the people of Mechanicsburg, with most of them being regarded as eccentric at worst.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers, with Gi as the self-appointed spokeswoman of the philosophy that Children Are Innocent, everyone is good at heart, and hate, prejudice and other things people learn as they grow up.Most of the villains were in it for the money, just in grandiose and often impractical ways. Two of the major recurring villains, Sly Sludge and Hoggish Greedly, actually pulled Heel Face Turns in the final season.
  • Gargoyles, though it's never explicitly stated, brings the Rousseau principle home through making each of its recurring characters as complex and 3-dimensional as possible. Even the Spin-Off comic, Bad Guys, calls its team of former ne'er-do-wells the "Redemption Squad."
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) and She-Ra: Princess of Power had this as a recurring theme, with even the main villains showing they had a good side underneath all that evil.
  • Lilo & Stitch: All of the 626 experiments were created to be evil and the Series Goal is to redeem all of them.
  • The whole premise of Disney's Phineas and Ferb, where the Big Bad is usually an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain with countless Pet the Dog moments, and the so-called bully is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Doofenshmirtz' ex-wife explicitly tells her daughter Vanessa that "No one is evil".
  • Villains in Batman: The Animated Series, and, to a much lesser extent, its Sequel Series Batman Beyond, almost always start out innocent, until some horrible tragedy befalls them. Batman will inevitably try to bring them back onto the side of good before fighting them. This had always been the case for some characters, like Two-Face, but the concept is taken to an extreme. Mister Freeze is the most obvious example. The character had always just been a Card-Carrying Villain. In the show, he was a scientist trying to save his wife, but an evil executive destroyed his research and turned him into a monster. Other characters (including Harley Quinn, The Ventriloquist, The Penguin, The Riddler, Poison Ivy, Baby Doll and Killer Croc) are all given their own episodes where they give up their evil ways and start to become productive members of society, only for some twist of fate to send them back to the dark side.
    • Well, except for that one guy...
  • Goliad from Adventure Time was actually rather kind before Jake influenced her to be evil.
    • So far, we're given a Freudian Excuse from both The Ice King and Magic Man.
  • With the exception of the Big Bad from Toy Story 3, this can be said about the villains in Toy Story.
  • If the above was the case, it's possibly the descriptions for the monsters themselves in Monsters INC and Monsters University. With the exception of Randall that is...
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Almost everybody, pony or otherwise, has at least some spark of decency tucked away somewhere and can potentially be redeemed even if they start out antagonistic; exceptions for whom this statement is at the very least questionable are pretty rare and usually Big Bads. (And even among those, Nightmare Moon/Princess Luna is practically the poster pony for the trope.)
    • The only characters who seem completely irredeemable are the season-opener bad guys King Sombra and Queen Chrysalis.
      • Chrysalis can have a more complicated morality when given thought, as she is simply doing what she has to to feed her own people.
    • From Season 3, this even applies to Discord, the personification of chaos and a Mad God who brainwashed our heroes. It turns out that he never had a friend before, and never understood its true value. Fluttershy's genuine kindness—and how his continued evil nearly cost him that friendship—prompted Discord to have a Heel-Face Turn!
  • Many (if not all) incarnations of Optimus Prime are firm believers that all Cybertronians and humans have the capacity to change for the better.
  • At the end of Willie the Operatic Whale, the narrator notes that the guy that killed Willie with a harpoon didn't do so out of malice; he simply failed to understand the miracle that was Willie's singing.
  • Pretty much every character on The Amazing World of Gumball has been given some manner of sympathetic POV, the only exceptions being the ones who didn't show up for long enough.
  • An Imagine Spot in the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Return of the King set after the ring is destroyed has Sam imagine himself and Frodo encountering a troop of Orcs while smoking. Both parties wave amicably and go their separate ways; implying that Sam believes there's some good in them and it's only Sauron's influence that makes them the way they are (this is rather in line with Tolkien's worldview, nobody is unremittingly, irredeemably evil).

    Real Life 
  • School bomber Andrew Kehoe had a sign at his burnt down farm that said "Criminals are made, not born."

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