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Rousseau Was Right

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"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 (in a similar vein to Poe's Law). Thus, "innocent" and "harmless" are not the same: from this viewpoint, it's not so much "Kids Are Cruel" as Kids are Obliviously Evil/Kids Are Ingenues. 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, White-and-Grey Morality, Grey-and-Gray Morality, Good vs. Good, Both Sides Have a Point, and Then Let Me Be Evil. If a heroic, Wide-Eyed Idealist character believes this but is plain wrong, then Good Cannot Comprehend Evil.


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  • An anti-hate PSA opens with a scene of babies in a maternity ward, with an announcer saying "Here's one time it doesn't matter who your neighbor is." Then, following a rapid-fire montage of various rallies and demonstrations from the KKK, neo-Nazis, etc., the scene cuts to a graveyard as the announcer says "Here's the other."
    "Life's too short. Stop the hate."

    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 note , for which he would rather die than lose, is 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.
  • 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 ultimately does, and he even joins the student council.
  • This is a running theme in One Piece, playing quite a bit with the idea that the real power of As Long as There Is One Man is the people that can be inspired by someone crazy enough to make a stand, while many of the conflicts stem from Anti Villains like the Marines doing Not Quite the Right Thing, with the solution just as often being Moral Pragmatism. The side stories following defeated villains take it farther, frequently exposing unexpected Hidden Depths, standards, and redemptions during the Trauma Conga Line the characters usually go through.
  • 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, but Johan still refuses to change.
  • 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, the only exceptions being Ogre and Shakuma Raregroove. 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).
  • 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.
  • 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 '90s 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 Kyo Kara Maoh!, there have been perhaps two Big Bads 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:
    • Even the absolute worst of the villains play this trope straight. Yami Marik is the Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac split personality of Marik. While there's nothing sympathetic about his character, his origin is: he was born from the pain and anger Marik felt having his back carved by his own father. Yami Bakura is an Omnicidal Maniac trying to summon Zorc Necrophades, ultimately to avenge his entire town being murdered. Said Zorc is summoned by the Millenium Items, which ARE the collective group of townspeople that, while criminals, still didn't deserve the fate they got.
    • It should be noted that this trope is in much heavier effect for the anime. The manga, especially before Duel Monsters took over the story, was significantly more black-and-white in terms of morality and featured an endless parade of one-shot villains with no redeeming features whatsoever. Even Pegasus died at the end of Duelist Kingdom, rather than embracing any kind of Heel–Face Turn.
    • Don't get started on Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's. Who would have thought that Yliaster, Paradox, and Z-One were just trying to stop a Bad Future from occurring?
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS might be bleaker and more cynical that the series in the franchise before it, but alongside the original and ZEXAL, this series portrays one of the strongest examples of this trope, considering the villains are more Well-Intentioned Extremist 's, the rivals are not the usual jerks but rather complex people with understandable motivations, and Yusaku has a legitimately good reason for his cold-hearted Jerkass attitude.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Light Yagami of Death Note zig-zags this, but it really may all depend on your personal stance on the character. On the one hand, Light, upon losing all memories of ever being a serial killer, instantly reverts into a Lawful Good and trustworthy young man, suggesting that the power of the Death Note truly is corrupting. On the other hand, Near points out that A), had Light been a genuinely decent and righteous person, the first time he used the Notebook would also have been the lastnote , and B) if he had just been a normal person, he might have used it a few times for personal gainnote . And his monstrous god complex ostensibly tosses both theories out the window. The only hint we're ever given behind all of the underlying sadism, narcissism, grandiosity, manipulation, black-and-white-thinking, and paranoia is that his creator confirms he was a perfectionist that had to manipulate himself into believing the first deaths he caused were entirely justified, and that he made the world a better place because of it.
  • The Daft Punk movie Interstella 5555 shows that not every human like the Big Bad is evil. When the humans of Earth discovered the Crescendolls are aliens kidnapped from their planet and enslaved, the humans did everything to bring them back to their home planet.
  • This is a major theme in the Lyrical Nanoha franchise, where everyone (regardless of how they were born) has the capacity to do good, and most antagonists will undergo a Heel–Face Turn if given the chance. This is best demonstrated in A's, which is flat out Good vs. Good, and the closest thing to an evil character is a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Though this is averted in the movie series with Phi Maxwell, a man who, though seemingly nice, is depicted as pure evil.
  • For how infamously dark the series is, Puella Magi Madoka Magica has this theme. Every single villain is either a Well-Intentioned Extremist or out for Revenge. The witches are former Magical Girls who were corrupted and turned into monsters and are just trying to Mercy Kill humanity, while the antagonistic Magical Girls are trying to fight against the system that has set them up to become witches- or, in the case of Kagari from Puella Magi Suzune Magica, she wants to avenge a loved one. Even the Overarching Villain, Kyubey/Incubator, despite being a Hate Sink, is trying to save the universe, and has Blue-and-Orange Morality which leads them to attempt maximization for energy production even after Madoka has created a system where no one needs to suffer. The other biggest examples are Madoka/Gretchen and Homura/Homulily themselves, who become two of the greatest threats to the universe because of the Trauma Conga Line they suffered, and because of their love for each other.
  • Shuumatsu no Walküre: Record of Ragnarok runs on the premise that humans are basically decent and would only become malicious under extremely circumstances. Most of the human characters have their more unsavory traits removed (such as Lu Bu's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder tendency and Adam and Eve's willful disobedience that led to their exile). Even Jack the Ripper—a man described in-universe as "the worst humanity has to offer"— is portrayed as a decent child who only wants to be loved, and eventually becomes a hedonistic Serial Killer after he realises that his mother, the only person he thought had loved him, only wanted to use him to bait his wealthy father and save her from a life of poverty, and that she doesn't really love her son as a person.
  • Zigzagged in The Kindaichi Case Files. The series almost unfailingly portrays the Arc Villain of each case as Sympathetic Murderers who are only Driven to Villainy because they have been pushed through the Despair Event Horizon by their murder victims, and even the one killer who isn't motivated by revenge for a loved one is still depicted as a Tragic Villain haunted by the guilt of his past crimes and desperate to put his criminal past behind him. The same can't be said for their asshole victims (at least, not always), as many of them are genuinely petty Jerkasses who tormented the would-be killers out of jealousy, spite or guilt.

    Comic Books 
  • This is a frequently-explored theme in Volume 2 of Runaways. New members Victor, Xavin and Klara each come with baggage (Victor may or may not be fated to become an Omnicidal Maniac, Xavin is a Jerkass, and Klara is an Innocent Bigot with trust issues) but their new teammates believe that they can be guided into becoming heroes.
  • The majority of stuff by Grant Morrison. One could say that the Central Theme of his works is that everyone has the potential to be an awesome hero.
  • A recurring theme in Superman. Superman's belief is that all sentient life at the very least begins as being inherently good. This belief is his motivation to be a superhero (to be a symbol to others) and often comes up when he's battling criminals; as long as they don't cause serious harm to others, Superman will be incredibly nice to them and try to help them reform, as he genuinely believes that there's good in them. In this regard he's often contrasted with Batman, who believes that Humans Are Flawed.
    • This is also the central part of the climax of All-Star Superman: it's suggested that Superman's powers have helped make him a good person, because his Super Senses mean that he can understand his place in the universe and the feelings of everyone in the world. Turns out he speaks from experience when he says that, on balance, people are good - a realization that causes Luthor to have his Villainous Breakdown and eventually a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Jack Kirby's New Gods series made this into a prevailing theme as well. The evil residents of Apokolips are treated as having become the way they are due to the appalling conditions they were raised in. In direct contrast, Highfather New Genesis celebrates unspoiled youth, and in spite of personal struggles his subjects are always the good guys.
  • Generally implied to be the case in Violine. The villains are primarily motivated by greed. One of them, when offered the chance to turn his life around, eagerly takes the opportunity and even designates someone to smack him upside the head if he ever shows signs of relapsing into his old greedy ways. Two end up losing their memories because of fumes they breathed in, which leads to both looking at their lives objectively, being disgusted by their actions, and striving to make up for everything. The end of the series also implies that Violine's abusive foster mother would experience a similar change of heart, hence her brother choosing to have her breathe the fumes and come out a nicer person. Violine, meanwhile, worries that her real mother, who was very nice before breathing the fumes, might have ended up horrible. It turns out that no, she kept her original personality and is the same as she was before, once she regains her memories.
  • This was the Central Theme of Batgirl (2000). The main protagonist herself was a girl raised to be a deadly assassin but chose to become a hero instead.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has Harry believe this at first, even with a bit of cynicism. One Trauma Conga Line later (of many) in the sequel, he appears to have dropped into bitter nihilism, but he eventually gives Clark Kent - a pure example of this trope, giving a deadly enemy of his not just a second chance, but a third one, genuinely trying to help him - a Rousing Speech along these lines, saying that Rousseau Was Right (and by extension, so is Clark). Cynicism isn't a good thing, necessarily (though pragmatism never goes amiss), and the Power of Trust (which he has used as is afraid he's too cynical to use again) is testament to Clark's courage.
    • Jor-El, Clark's biological father, was this, just like in canon.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door, St. Cuthbert's speech to Lyrius in the epilogue seems to indicate that he agrees with Rousseau, even going so far to use the "blank slate" term. He also claims that Lyrius' sword made chose Good after reverting to its "blank slate" because it found that Good Feels Good, even though it could remember the time when it was evil. Clearly, St. Cuthbert believes mortals have free will.

    Films — Animation 
  • Most Pixar films are more on White-and-Grey Morality most of the time rather than stick to typical good vs evil.
    • 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...
    • This trope can be said about the villains in all the Toy Story movies.
  • The villains in the Tinker Bell films are usually redeemed and end up on the side of the heroes.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Superman Returns: From the mouth of Superman's late father Jor-El: "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?
    • Played out further in Man of Steel, in which Superman has to decide whether to side with his alien race or defend the people of Earth. In the end he chooses Earth due to their potential for kindness and heroism. The biggest example being Lois Lane, who figures out that Superman is Clark Kent but keeps it a secret solely out of altruism.
  • 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 Punch-Clock Villain, 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. This is because the movie's ending was rewritten after 9/11; the original ending involved the WTC.
  • Star Wars: Applies to almost every villain:
  • 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 the government opens its border to Arab refugees. People of all faiths then 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. Unfortunately, the noise draws in the zombies...
  • The Truman Show: Truman wasn't evil, but was born with an innate curiosity that made it difficult to keep him in Seahaven. Despite all the manipulations in his life, Truman was able to retain his sense of adventure. He eventually overcomes his fear of water, sails to the edge of the studio, and walks out the door. "You never had a camera in my head," indeed.
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: Both Jetfire and Wheelie come to embody this. The former defected from the Decepticons after being jaded by the constant wars the Fallen was launching. The latter only worked for the Decepticons out of fear, and was happy to join Sam and his gang.
  • The Aesop of Loki's character arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As explored in Thor, he was not born evil and is not a monster. His villainy in that film is largely a product of his messed-up upbringing. Even when he's at his worst in The Avengers, a small spark of goodness remains within him, even as he tries so hard to ignore it. It's especially evident in his scene with Thor, where Loki sheds a single tear and immediately dismisses it as a sentiment. Loki's fall from grace is played up as tragic in both movies. Then in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, he slowly crawls back into the light, and in Avengers: Infinity War, he sacrifices himself for his brother, proving that in spite of his past misdeeds, he was truly good at heart.
  • In Wonder Woman 1984, the Big Bad Maxwell Lord gets his hands on the Dreamstone, which can grant any wish, and becomes its Anthropomorphic Personification, giving him the power to grant wishes (and the expense of draining the life of the people who make them). Through the use of television, he offers everyone in the world the chance to have anything they want, and billions of people begin making selfish wishes. In the end, Wonder Woman uses this trope rather than fighting Maxwell, urging people to see the beauty of the planet and how their selfishness is destroying it. Every citizen of Earth then renounces their wishes, which defeats Maxwell and emits a World-Healing Wave that undoes the Dreamstone's power.

  • This trope surprisingly fits for the works of John Steinbeck. His works are about types of people who lived in the Great Depression such as hobos, tramps, and people struggling for work but made the characters relatable enough to make them very sympathetic. Sympathetic enough to make yourself feel bad with the horrible Downer Ending comes at the end.
  • 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.
  • Beloved children's author Beatrix Potter wrote books that heavily portrayed this trope.
  • 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-Gray 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."
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • In J. R. R. Tolkien's universe evil cannot create, it can only corrupt. Therefore, orcs are corrupted elves, trolls are corrupted ents, etc.
    • The Lord of the Rings may appear 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.
    • The Silmarillion: Neither Melkor nor Sauron were originally evil, but their pride and hubris 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.
    • Even in his lifetime, Tolkien struggled with this. Being a committed and intellectually serious Catholic, he honestly believed that no sapient being was beyond redemption. Catholic teaching is very clear that although all humans are fallen, no human is barred from God's grace; and moving beyond humans, even Satan was an angel in God's favour, and (according to at least one strand of Catholic thinking) could return to a state of grace but for his pride. Thus a lot of his latter years were spent trying to find a satisfactory way to justify the existence of the Always Chaotic Evil orcs. In the end, he admitted that they were only evil because of Morgoth and Sauron (the latter of which he himself also didn't believe to be completely malevolent, though very close).
  • 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).
  • In Janet Kagan's book Mirabile, there are no villains; at most, some of the stories have people who act in antagonistic ways because they're frightened and/or working from incomplete information. The dramatic tension mainly comes from encounters with dangerous critters, which are just acting according to their natures.
  • Septimus Heap: Apparently, no human being can be entirely evil because of... reasons.
  • 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.
    • Harper Lee also tries to show that most of the characters, even the racist ones, aren't so much wrong as misguided, having grown up in an environment where racism is encouraged and seen as natural. It could even be argued that Bob Ewell has somewhat of a Freudian Excuse, although that's debatable.
  • 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, aside from three holdouts who are soon eaten by carnivores.
  • The Hearts We Sold ends with the main character Dee asserting this to the Daemon. The Daemon doubts that humans would willingly work with him if he told them up-front what they were getting into, even if he explained it was for the good of the world. Dee, upon reflecting on the selfless acts she's witnessed, disagrees.
  • Zigzagged in Victoria, where some villains are presented as truly irredeemable, but the overall view of people in general is ultimately rather optimistic. Much emphasis is placed on the fact that the masses are cowed and apathetic only due to mind-numbing propaganda and pressure to conform from the evil authorities, and people flock to the good guys' banners as soon as they present a better alternative to the corrupt status quo. And when the people are given the clearly stated choice between good and evil, the majority eventually choose good. However, this only applies to the people living in Victoria, most or all of which are white heterosexual christians. Other races, creeds and sexual identities are considered Always Chaotic Evil by the narrative, deserving of being nuked or sold to slavery.
  • In The Dresden Files, no man is so evil, that he is beyond redemption. This is the mentality of the Knights of the Cross, three Paladins who wield the Swords of the Cross, so named for the nails which came from Jesus' Crucifixion. Their primary goal isn't the destruction of their enemies who are possessed by Fallen Angels, but the redemption of those who are ensnared by the lies of the Fallen. One current Knight was a teenager when he was looking for acceptance and became host to a Fallen, but he saw the errors of his ways and rejected the Fallen One. Michael Carpenter, who wields the Sword of Love, holds this true for even the leader of the Fallen, Nicodemus. The man who has been around for about two thousand years, caused plagues, deaths, and whole corruptions of generations of people who have become his loyal fanatics, is held to be not beyond redemption. And for one singular moment after his quest for the Holy Grail requires him to kill the one person he genuinely loves, his daughter, and realizing what he has given up to attain so little, it looks like he might turn from evil. However, his Pride is not yet broken completely and he then laughs at the knights trying to make him redeem himself.
  • In the Wings of Fire series, people/dragons who do evil things are invariably hollow or restless on some level because of it. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that all they need is a speech from the heroes (tm) to become good- many villains die before understanding or accepting where they went wrong. A MacGuffin shows even the Evil Overlord Darkstalker's soul to be not wholly bad (presumably because of the remnants of love for his mother and Clearsight), and Kinkajou eventually concludes it would be fairest to neutralize him by magically reverting him to an amnesiac hatchling- not through murder. It's notable that the version of Vulture bespelled into loving his family is also the only time in the series we ever see him happy, because he's never cared about anything before (except perhaps money, which is motivated by fear of starvation). The true Vulture is perpetually paranoid and dissatisfied.
  • George Zebrowski's "Foundation’s Conscience": The final appearance by Hari Seldon, where he reveals the end of his millennia-long Plan, has him explaining that he hopes that humanity will be able to eliminate the "darkness rising out of a given human nature", because he loves the noble impulses of humanity, and wishes for society to be rational and unpredictable, with freedom from inner darkness and psychohistory.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Buffyverse, everyone with a soul has a natural urge to do good, which is often acknowledged, then ignored.
  • 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.
  • Once Upon a Time: Two of the main phrases are: "Magic always comes at a price", and "Evil isn't born, it's made." Pretty much every villain has some legit reason for being evil.
  • 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.
  • On The 100, any villain who gets even a little development is revealed to not be acting out of malice, but rather a genuine desire to do the right thing. It's just that they live in a Crapsack World where limited resources and cultural differences force people into conflict with each other, and everyone (hero and villain alike) has to do horrible things to keep themselves and those close to them alive.
  • One of the defining themes of The Fugitive. People would help Wrongly Accused Richard Kimble escape from the police because they've learned he's a genuinely good man who helped them.
    • This carried over into the real world, as fans of the show would approach actor Barry Morse - who played the pursuing Lt. Gerard - and yell at him for chasing after "that nice doctor!"
  • Mister Rogers' Neighborhood clearly showed how Fred Rogers thought the best of everybody and was happy to tell you that he liked you exactly the way you are.
  • Nightmarishly played with in Black Mirror's Men Against Fire. Arquette certainly thinks this is true for humanity... which he believes is a serious flaw in the species. He specifically mentions statistics pointing out how hard it is for a man to pull the trigger when in combat, needlessly extending conflict when soldiers could just buckle up and be done with it. Which is why he's now part of a project manipulating soldiers' haptics to mask the defenseless people they're slaughtering and make them appear as mutated monsters.
    Arquette: It's easier to pull the trigger when you're aiming at the bogeyman.
  • In Kamen Rider Build, this is one of Sento Kiryu's core beliefs. He believes that, deep down, everyone wants to strive for love and peace. Sure enough, all the allies he gains during the series were people who were inspired by his dedication to fight for "love and peace" that they decided it was worth fighting for as well, even the ones that brushed it off as naive nonsense at first. Even Sento himself demonstrates this trope. Before his memories were erased, he was Katuragi Takumi, an infamous scientist who did human experimentation in order to develop the Rider system, and a far cry from the hero of justice Sento became, and even then its implied that Takumi was only like that because of his experiences after the Sky Walls formed (which included his father being disgraced and driven to (fake) suicide and the nation growing closer and closer to civil war).
  • What Would You Do? is all about this trope. It is a hidden camera show where actors play strangers in dire situations and seeing if (and how) members of the public step in to help (or not). One of the most awesome examples being a group of men who heroically jumped into action to stop (what they believed to be) a girl from being kidnapped - they blocked the "kidnapper" off in their car and rushed him and the crew had to quickly step in and stop them before the actor got hurt. Sometimes however the trope gets Inverted, sometimes to horrifying effect: One experiment involved a pair of girls in a bar pretending to be sloshed and gave marks the chance to avert a potential date rape; a guy sidled right up to the girls and began sizing them up for pick-up before the actor who was supposed to do that could even get started.
  • One of the central themes of Good Witch. Most, if not all, characters in the show want to do good (even if they disagree on what exactly that means), and even those who are a Jerkass usually have a Hidden Heart of Gold.
  • One of the central themes of The Good Place is that, when you get down to it, people just aren't that bad. It's mentioned that trying to get humans to torture each other in the Bad Place has failed repeatedly because humans don't inherently want to hurt other people. The "Good" Place at the start of the series is an attempt to see if they'll torture each other unwittingly.

  • 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.
  • Disturbed's song Who Taught You How To Hate purports that all prejudice is learned and not inherent.
  • Luke Bryan's Most People Are Good. While the song does say there is a lot of bad in the world, it also says the world isn't as bad as it seems and that most people are good.

    Myth & Religion 
  • Defied in Christianity. A point The Bible often repeats is how mankind has fallen and what we do is often good in our eyes and evil in God's, and it is man's nature to sin against God.
    Genesis 6:5: And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
    Romans 3:12: All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.

  • Journey into Space: In Journey to the Moon / Operation Luna, Jet delivers something of a Kirk Summation, admitting that although humanity has made some terrible mistakes, it is learning and will better itself if allowed to develop in freedom.

    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.)
  • 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 Yuthura Ban and Bastila are a bit more of a crapshoot.
  • The default assumption behind the Sakura Wars series seems to be that people are innately good, although they can end up going astray without the proper guidance — the Humongous Mecha pilots 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.
  • Pretty much everyone in Undertale has at least some good in them. Even the most aggressive monsters in the game (Asgore and Flowey) were driven by desperation to be free and a lack-of-soul-induced madness respectively. In fact, Word of God has it that all of the characters are fundamentally good.
    • This is Papyrus' main belief. He truly believes everyone has good in them even A No Mercy Player.
  • Depending on the Writer, Bowser of the Mario Games really isn't that evil, is perfectly willing to have kart races with his Arch-Nemesis, and truly cares about his minions.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, if Leliana is selected to be the next Divine of the White Chantry and plot events concerning her lead her to have her old idealism we all remember from her time in Dragon Age: Origins being re-affirmed, her reign as Divine Victoria becomes this.
  • The Talos Principle: Unusually for an End of the World scenario, humanity accepts its fate gracefully. Rather than descend into anarchy, society goes on, and the declining population continues to support the Talos Project and each other until the end.
  • In Persona 5, this is how "changing someone's heart" works. By going into a person's mental landscape, the protagonists force that person to experience a single moment free of delusion or bias- to see themselves clearly. Because their targets are invariably villainous, and because of this trope, this process always results in the person changing who they are. They remember who they were before greed/fear/anger corrupted them, and make the choice themselves to become that person again.
  • In Soul Sacrifice Delta, the philosophy of Sanctuarium is that all Archfiends can be saved and redeemed, at least after whittling them down by force. The saved Archfiends become recruitable allies for the Player Character, and many of them join Sanctuarium out of gratitude and/or atonement. The only Archfiends that cannot be saved are Lizard Men, who must be sacrificed in order to defeat them, although saving them grants the player their Life Essence.
  • In Harvest Town, whenever a character is shown to act unpleasantly and the player complains about it, other characters would assure the player that the apparent Jerkass is really a sweet person who's only acting harsh to protect a loved one.

    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.
  • The Fate/hollow ataraxia character Souchirou is anti-murder because of his Tyke-Bomb upbringing, not despite it: having been taught not to value any life, even his own, he therefore attaches no meaning or triumph to fulfilling his murderous purpose. He doesn't mind killing, but he sees it in the same way as normal people see lugging rocks around. He can do it, and maybe even has to sometimes, but why would anyone enjoy it?

    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 
  • This is a key trope in The Dragon Wars Saga.
  • Humans of New York, a Facebook page that shows the awesomeness of humans... in New York!
  • Hazbin Hotel: This trope is Charlie's entire motivation and modus operandi for the hotel: she believes that guidance and removal of bad influences will appeal to demons' better natures, leading to them repenting and earning their way to heaven. Her song "Inside Every Demon is a Rainbow" is basically "Rousseau Was Right: The Song".
    Inside of every demon is a rainbow
    Inside every sinner is a shiny smile!
    Inside of every creepy, hatchet-wielding maniac
    Is a jolly, happy, cupcake loving child!

    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 and prejudice are not qualities carried from birth. Most of the villains were only 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.
  • Craig Bartlett's works are fond of this trope.
    • Hey Arnold! generally tends to support that people are good by default and only made bad by certain circumstances. This is shown with Helga's abusive, competitive upbringing turning her into a bully, when she was a sweet kid prior to that.
    • Dinosaur Train has Buddy, an All-Loving Hero who is nice to everyone, no matter who they are. Even to Keenan Chirostenotes and Remy Ramphorhynchus, who were jerks and bullies.
    • Ready Jet Go!: Jet is an All-Loving Hero to makes it a point to treat every living thing with kindness, even those who are mean to him, because he loves them so much. We later learn that the resident douchebag of the cul-de-sac, Mitchell Peterson, has a heart of gold deep down, and his rude behavior stems from deep-seated emotional issues.
  • 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 (except for Hordak Prime).
  • 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's 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.
  • 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 character who seems completely irredeemable is season-opener bad guy King Sombra. The comics, however, gave him a sympathetic backstory and ultimately had him reform.
    • 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!
    • While Lord Tirek, the Big Bad of Season 4 closer is an exception to the rule, his cohorts are not. His brother Scorpan ultimately turned to good after interacting with the very Ponies he was supposed to be dominating and stealing magic from, which led to Tirek's first defeat, while Discord, who had betrayed the Mane cast to help Tirek before being betrayed by Tirek in turn, ultimately had a more authentic redemption than the one he had in Season 3 by providing the final piece of the puzzle needed to stop Tirek for good and save Equestria.
    • Even the Emotion Eater Changelings, which are raised evil by their queen, can be redeemed by sharing love and friendship with others. The entire hive transform into more majestic forms and lose their Horror Hunger for love after defeating their queen with a Care-Bear Stare.
  • 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.
  • In The Owl House, Luz's rival Amity is an Academic Alpha Bitch, but only because of her snobby, abusive parents and competition from her siblings Edric and Emira. She gets better later on.
  • 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).
  • Steven Universe takes this approach. Most of the antagonistic characters so far are given deeper reasons for their actions; the ones that haven't simply haven't been given enough screen time. Even Word of God has stated that the show doesn't have any "real" villains. This is exemplified by the Heel–Face Turn of every single major villain in the series, including the Diamonds.
  • Samurai Jack: When Ashi was a child, she had curiosity for life outside the cult but was never allowed to learn compassion and was overtaken by her terrible upbringing. When she sees Jack treating a ladybug with respect she rediscovers her inner goodness and chooses to end her maliciousness.
  • Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum teaches us, among other things, that everyone is good deep down. In fact, the book series that the show was based on, Ordinary People Change the World, did a book about Anne Frank, who reaffirms her belief that people are truly good at heart.

    Real Life 
  • 2300 years ago the Zou-nese (modern-day Shandong province, China) Confucian Philosopher Mencius (Meng-zi, literally 'Master Meng') espoused the then-revolutionary idea that people were innately good. This was a deeply troublesome idea since it implied that people didn't need Kings or Emperors to bully them into behaving morally, so this aspect of his philosophy was firmly glossed over until the 19th-20th centuries.
  • School bomber Andrew Kehoe had a sign at his burnt down farm that said "Criminals are made, not born."
  • Provided they last long enough, most human societies and civilizations apparently tend to get more peaceful and tolerant. Whilst there are notable and unfortunate exceptions, it does appear that we as a culture (if not as a species) are becoming if not more loving and caring, then at least less violent and bloodthirsty.
  • From a world stage picture one could argue the world has (in general) seemingly never been more peaceful. While there are still conflicts and wars, many disputes overall are solved through negotiation, as opposed to outright elimination of the opposing side. The number of wars fought between countries that are going on as opposed to internal conflicts can be counted on the fingers of one's hand. On the other side, it could be argued that weapons technology that's reached today's level of destruction and control is what really keeps the peace. Powerful nations simply can't afford the ramifications of armed conflict, so it's the threat of wholesale destruction that keeps conflicts limited in scope.
    • From a smaller-scale model there are of course still regional scuffles, skirmishes and murders that are woefully common. note 
  • Universalist preacher Hosea Ballou was of this belief, writing that those who emphasized a Fire and Brimstone Hell were inadvertently harming their congregations.
    By having such an example constantly before their eyes, they have become so transformed into its image, that, whenever they have had the power, they have actually executed a vengeance on men and women, which evinced that the cruelty of their doctrine had overcome the native kindness and compassion of the human heart.
    • And in a (possibly apocryphal) conversation with a Baptist minister, the Baptist claimed that "if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I'd still go to heaven." Ballou's response: "If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you."
  • Lord of the Flies has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for its "psychological realism" and ability to describe the "universal darkness at the heart of Men." Yet, when the events of the novel were accidentally replicated in Real Life, instead of enduring a slow descent to madness and chaos, the children created a peaceful island commune, divided tasks equitably and efficiently rationed out resources so they could wait for a rescue. Sure enough, they were ready when it came.
  • For those who believe that Kids Are Cruel, it could be because adults can be cruel. Chances are children who bully other children may have been raised by the wrong kind of parents. That is, the parents were either Pushover Parents who neglected to discipline their kids for wrongdoing, or they were Abusive Parents whose kids took their wrath out on weaker kids. From there, the other kids learn that being cruel to the victim is acceptable and will garner praise from their peers. Thankfully, anyone who was raised by the right kind of parents would know that it doesn't have to be that way.


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