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Rousseau Was Right

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Even on dreary days, people will still help each other.
"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, humans (or non-humans; 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 Villainous Lineage, 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 children are commonly understood 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 infants are, 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, or to willfully remain ignorant or uncaring of how their actions harm 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, Enfant Terrible, 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 Versus 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 by Ad Council 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."
  • Whenever a poll is done where kids can mail in to decide if the Trix Rabbit should be allowed to have a bowl of the titled cereal, the results are always an overwhelming yes.

    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Digimon Ghost Game, despite being just as dark as Digimon Tamers and then some (being explicitly designed as a horror series), like Tamers before it, admittedly follows this too. More than any other Digimon series before it, Ghost Game demonstrates to its audience that Digimon are not humans, and thus, don’t normally live like humans. Apart from a few scattered examples, the Digimon that regularly emerge on Earth are genuinely good-natured. After the protagonists get through stopping their trouble and giving them a good talking-to, they most often adjust well to life on Earth. Even the introduction of Digimon on Earth follows this. Quantumon, the leader of the Digital World, genuinely wants Digimon and humans to cooperate with each other, but she admits that she doesn’t understand human emotion, so she released Digimon on Earth to act as her proxies for gathering data on humanity. The series itself, Cosmic Horror Story that it is, ends on a very optimistic note, implying that humans and Digimon truly will live together peacefully in the future. On top of that, GulusGammmamon, pretty much the worst villain within the series, ends his time on the scene with the implication that even he could be genuinely reformed one day.
  • Digimon Tamers, despite being the darkest of its franchise’s incarnations, arguably follows this principle. The majority of the series’ conflicts and battles stem from the fact that Digimon don’t subscribe to the same way of life as humans, and as such, many Digimon become violent not out of maliciousness, but natural instinct. When the setting transitions to the Digital World, our resident Kid Heroes often found good relations with the Digimon they encountered there.
    • Impmon’s character arc is practically made of this principle. For the first third or so of the series, he’s The Bully of the cast and a general nuisance rather than an outright villain. Even so, as much as he tried to hide it, he’s shown to genuinely enjoy the heroes’ company. His harsh troublemaker attitude came as a result of his first contact with humans, namely with the young twins Ai and Mako. The twins hurt Impmon and drove him away, simply because they were too young and immature to know how to take care of him. That experience made Impmon associate humans with pain, and he wants to grow stronger so no one can ever hurt him again. In the 2nd third of the show, he’s finally given a taste of power as Beelzemon, with tragic results. He’s then beaten by Gallantmon, spared (but not forgiven, not yet at first) by Jeri, and finally rescued from the emerging D-Reaper by Rika and Renamon. All of this causes Impmon to realize the gravity of what he’s done, and he slowly pulls a Heel–Face Turn. He spends the final third of the series as The Atoner, turning the power he gained as Beelzemon towards helping to stop the D-Reaper and save Jeri. He even manages to make up with Ai and Mako, the twins themselves having grown a bit, realizing how they hurt him, and wanting to make up for it. It finally comes full circle when Jeri forgives Impmon for his past crimes, her accepting how he'd truly changed.
    • The series’ other antagonists follow a similar track. Agent Yamaki truly wanted to protect humans from Digimon, as he was ignorant to how Digimon aren’t just simple monsters. When his new weapon to destroy the Digimon, the Juggernaut, goes out of control and nearly destroys Tokyo, he’s outright shattered by what he’d done, and later pulls a Heel–Face Turn. Zhuqiaomon and the Devas, despite believing Digimon to be inherently superior to humans, genuinely wanted to protect their race. The reason they kidnapped Calumon in the first place was for that goal, to use his powers as a weapon against the D-Reaper. In the end, while Zhuqiaomon admits he’ll likely never be at ease knowing that there are Digimon running around with humans, he at least keeps to his word in ending his aggression towards humanity.
    • Even the D-Reaper, Eldritch Abomination that it is, has reasons for its evil actions. It first existed as a mere computer program, no simpler than a calculator, for the purpose of regulating the Digital World by limiting the amount of Digimon in existence. Unfortunately, the Digital World and its inhabitants evolved far beyond its pre-programmed limitations. Its initial goal of destroying the Digital World isn’t pursued out of hatred or malice, but only out of its attempts to fulfill its programming. Then, it captures Jeri and uses her trauma and despair to evolve itself. It also used Jeri as a reference point to study humanity, and, because it saw Jeri at her lowest point, came to the conclusion that humanity was inherently chaotic and needed to be destroyed as well. The D-Reaper developed a nihilistic, evil persona in reaction to seeing Jeri’s total pain and despair.

  • Fairy Tail: 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.
  • 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 Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Versus 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.
  • Mazinger Z: the "Theme of Z" seems to think Rousseau Was Right. Kouji and his friends meet many people who 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 to mix 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.
    • 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.
  • Dr. Tenma operates on this principle at the beginning of Monster (1994). 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.
  • 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.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi 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 though. 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 genuinely 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).
  • 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.
  • 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 further, frequently exposing unexpected Hidden Depths, standards, and redemptions during the Trauma Conga Line the characters usually go through.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Hate Sink, Kyubey/Incubator 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.
  • Queen Millennia: It's said that humanity was once as pure as Mayu, but Queen Millennia's team have introduced conflicts to them to speed up their development, something Yayoi regrets.
  • 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.
  • Record of Ragnarok runs on the premise that humans are basically decent and would only become malicious under extreme 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.
  • 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 refuses to seek redemption.
    • In the original manga, a good portion of the villains are just outright evil, and it's rare that a villain gets redeemed rather than summarily killed.
  • Shaman King: Yoh firmly believes that people who are able to see ghosts can't be truly evil, just horribly misguided at worst. Despite the universe desperately trying to prove him wrong, he's ultimately right: every single "evil" character has a tragic backstory and a legitimate Freudian Excuse for hating humanity, including Omnicidal Maniac Hao, and most if not all of them end up performing a Heel–Face Turn and manage to turn over a new leaf after being revived in the finale.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 of 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.
  • 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.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! features this trope numerous times across multiple series in the franchise.
    • Duel Monsters' Yugi Muto repeatedly proves 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.
      • Characters that independently changed their ways and become good having been previously evil 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 village being murdered in the name of the Pharaoh. Zorc himself is summoned by the Millenium Items, which were forged out of the sacrificed souls of aforementioned townspeople. While the dub claimed they were criminals, they still didn't deserve the fate they got.
      • Averted for a long time in 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 than the series in the franchise before it, but alongside the original and Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, this series portrays some strong examples of this trope, considering the villains are more Well Intentioned Extremists, 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Batgirl (2000): This was the Central Theme of the series. The main protagonist herself was a girl raised to be a deadly assassin but chose to become a hero instead.
  • While Batman's known for being a Knight in Sour Armor, he's far from being a cynic. Part of the reason of his infamous refusal to kill villains, even indirectly, is because he believes in mankind's capacity for good just as much as Superman does. He believes that everyone short of Darkseid has the potential to change, and doesn't want to rob them of that opportunity. The Joker is his Arch-Enemy because he's a Straw Nihilist that wants to prove Humans Are Bastards, and Batman came close to redeeming him at the end of The Killing Joke until he decided I've Come Too Far.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Shockingly Immortal Hulk comes to this conclusion despite being one of the darkest, most cynical and most disturbing Marvel runs of all time and full of Humans Are the Real Monsters, mercy and compassion wins out in the end. For example in Issue #13 Crusher Creel the Absorbing Man decides to help Bruce against his now demonic father Brian Banner simply because it’s the right time thing to do, in spite of Brian mocking him for acting the hero after committing so much crime. Then there Issue 50# where The One Above All asks Hulk standing over the wrenched Samuel Sterns aka the Leader (who’s done nothing but hurt him), will he become “The Left Hand of Strength” or “The Right Hand of Mercy”, Hulk picks mercy. Mercy, if anything is the greatest feat of strength Bruce can pull off after all he’s been through.
  • Iron Man: Surprisingly crops up often in comics in between all the Broken Ace sagas. Tony Stark does actually care for others, despite often coming across like nothing more than a rich asshole. For example how did Stark end up revealing his identity in the comics after years of keeping it secret to everyone? Just saving a boy’s dog, something that infuriated his Spoiled Brat Love Interest at the time. Later during the Civil War (2006) era despite being arguably at his absolute worst, Tony still personally pays for Aunt May’s hospital treatment after she’s sniped by Kingpin. This surprising merciful side to his personality was even evident at the beginning as Tony expressed pity towards Black Widow despite Natasha having fooled and tried to kill him — he still felt truly bad for her and this well before her eventual Heel–Face Turn to good.
  • The majority of stuff by Grant Morrison. One could say that the Central Theme of Morrison’s works is that everyone has the potential to be an awesome hero.
  • New Gods: Jack Kirby's series made this into a prevailing theme. 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.
  • Runaways: This is a frequently-explored theme in Volume 2. 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.
  • Spider-Man: Depending on the Writer. A running theme in Spider-Man stories, at least after Ditko left (since his run of stories generally had one-dimensional villains and his later objectivist turn was explicitly anti-Rousseauian). Spider-Man often believes that even his enemies are capable of being good or reforming, since as an imperfect man with the blood of his Uncle on his hands, he is himself trying to be a better person.
    • The incident with letting the robber run straight past him taught Peter that doing the right thing matters more than anything else in the world, sometimes even including love, happiness, and getting revenge for a lost loved one. Peter believes in caring for others so hard, just one homeless girl who was a fan of his that he missed on the street and is on death’s door by the time he finds her — breaks his heart even though she died loving him.
    • One Marvel Christmas Special has J.Jonah at the children’s ward trying and failing to teach the kids that Spidey is a selfish freak and only met with a collective “No you’re wrong geezer” as all the children share stories about how Spider-Man has visited and comforted them in their illness, including the terminal cases.
    • Notably both Norman and Goblin, and Harry Osborn became sympathetic and still from time to time affect some sympathetic traits (albeit in the case of Norman since The '90s he's been shown as pure unadulterated scum). Recent examples include Eddie Brock and Doctor Octopus somewhat. Even The Sandman has done a turn or two as a hero.
    • This is also the case of Spider-Man's supporting cast. Most obviously Flash Thompson, Peter's high school bully who via Character Development becomes a better person, apologizes to Peter and later dies a hero. Then there's J. Jonah Jameson who Peter respects for his good qualities and Hidden Heart of Gold but begrudges for his dislike of Spider-Man and his smear tactics. Even JJJ has turned around now after Peter revealed his identity to him.
  • Superman: A recurring theme. 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.
  • Violine: Generally implied to be the case. 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.
  • X-Men:
    • In X-Men (2019) despite all the often justified actions to the contrary Charles Xavier still loves and cares for humanity and while he’s stopped being soft or willingly to Turn the Other Cheek concerning their attempts to wipe him and all other mutants off the face of the earth anymore (in some fairness, Krakoa openly intends to outlive/replace mankind) he still hasn’t let go of his naive dream of coexistence and never will.
      Professor X: (taking off his soulless Cerebro helmet) Do you think I’ve completely given up my dream of mutants and humans coexisting peacefully? Do you think I don’t love you? Because I do. I do... I want you to always remember that. Someone once told me I’ve been spent my whole life believing the wrong dream... and I’ll admit the last few months — have been something of an education — but there’s a small part of me that will never stop believing in that dream. There’s a part of me that will never stop believing in you.
    • In Inferno (2021) Cypher provides example of this when he prevents Mystique and Destiny killing Moria even though the latter (believing mutants are nothing but a blight, despite being one herself) had intended to use Krakoa as death camp to get rid of all mutantkind in one fell swoop. Doug, after Mystique goes off on him for his mercy, admits how disappointing it is when someone who’s supposed to safeguard their “children” massively lets them down but to him being the better person simply matters more than killing for your species.

    Fan Works 
  • Better Bones AU: The cats treated as being "born evil" in canon are not this way in the rewrite, with more of an emphasis on how environment and ideology shape a cat into what they are. For example, Brokenstar, despite being a manifested curse, is not inherently evil but a product of his battle-centric culture angry at all his Clan has suffered due to WindClan and wanting to make sure the battles are all for something by winning them, and Hawkfrost is himself a victim of half-Clan prejudice who is manipulated by Leopardstar, Tigerstar, and the other remaining TigerClan supporters in RiverClan into becoming the next incarnation of his father who will bring back their "glory days". The exceptions are gods like One-eye and Sol who are just motivated by respectively spreading destruction and chaos, though they are so far removed from their mortal selves and personalities that they may well once have not been inherently evil as well.
  • 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.
  • Codex Equus: This is essentially the Vertusians' philosophy of "True Good". To simplify it, the Vertusians believe that all sapient creatures are born inherently good and that circumstances and corruption, not one's own nature, are what makes them turn to evil. While still possessing emotions like desire, followers of True Good pursue their desires and help others with theirs without needing to exploit them or expect a reward in return, respectively. "Constructive Evil" is considered part of True Good because it involves directing one's worst flaws/impulses towards positive ends, like punishing the genuinely wicked. The goal of the Vertusians, up to Virtucrat Fairytale herself, is to recreate the world at large into a Utopia where no one has any need for evil even for constructive purposes, even though Fairytale genuinely does not wish those who practice Constructive Evil any harm. However, True Good ends up deconstructed in light of how the world works - the world not only cannot exist without evil, it needs evil in order to continue surviving, let alone function properly. And by implication, True Good calls for the eradication of all evils, which includes beings like Temnobog, who, due to being the living bisected half of High King Bogolenya, literally cannot live without his twin brother, Belyolen, as one would die if the other dies. Moon Ray Vaughoof also compares True Good to throwing out all the Hell-Realms in the world while keeping only the Heaven-Realms. The Vertusians themselves are at a loss in regards to replacing evil with a better alternative, and it's through the existence of Malrègnar that they are able to continue existing at all without massive consequences. However, it's reconstructed as True Good does have truth to it - the fact that all sapient creatures are born with the ability to choose to be evil yet are naturally inclined to be good implies that there are higher forces at work who wanted the world to function that way... and that whoever created those higher forces is ultimately the Big Good of the entire setting.
  • The Flash Sentry Chronicles: This is essentially used to justify the fate of The Cult of Shadow. The group was a group of criminal cultists that caused tremendous suffering and death, all in the name of their leader Shadow Corrupter. However, it is noted how most of them have suffered in someway themselves in the past, and crossing paths with Shadow made them worse since he kept them at their lowest to make it seem like they had no choice but to serve him. Thus after they were defeated by Team Flash in The Lost City, Faust decides that most of them deserve a second chance. So, with the exception of Shadow Corrupter and one of his Co-Dragons, Armalum, all the other members have all of their memories erased except for their own names, in the hopes that without Shadow's influence on them, they can better themselves. This is played straight for most of the amnesiac members, since when they are briefly seen again in a flashback in "A Returning Storm" they are all happy with their lives now and have been given a home by a group of kind ponies. The only subversion is Storm Blade, who leaves the group due to refusing to accept not knowing about his past and sets out on a quest to find out who is responsible for his stolen memories and make them pay, not caring about any lives he destroys in the process, and feeling zero remorse when he learns about his past as a criminal and killer.
  • Odaliaverse actually brings up the philosophy in question during a conversation between the prime timeline's version of Camila and Amity. The former tries to argue about the meaning of said philosophy to try to dissuade the latter from painting Odalia as an irredeemable monster, and instead paint her as the end result of the environment around her. Still keeping in mind that horrible things were done in the process, too.
  • 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 as 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 
  • The villains in the Tinker Bell films are usually redeemed and end up on the side of the heroes.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town: "There is no such thing as a bad boy."
  • 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.
  • Powerful example in Circle. After almost hour of this being a cruelly Averted Trope topped off with The Sociopath Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Final Guy Eric willingly gets a little girl, a pregnant woman and her unborn child killed in the Deadly Game in order to save his own worthless hide (seemly proving Humans Are Bastards) when Eric is transported back to Earth by the aliens he discovers the majority of the voted winners of other games are pregnant women and children… proving most people are actually good and he’s a pathetic minority, not the norm. Something judging by the look on his face when he sees the other winners, just hit home to him.
  • In The Dark Knight, a recurring theme is the question of whether Humans Are Bastards 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 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. This even affects a past version of himself that tried to escape in Avengers: Endgame to come around faster upon knowing what would have happened to him.
  • 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.
    • This is a prominent theme throughout the trilogy, where most of the major villains are sympathetic and victims of forces beyond their control. Peter still sincerely believes there's good in Doctor Octopus when he appeals to him at the end of the second film and is proven right when Octavius has a Heel Realization and pulls a Redemption Equals Death. Sandman is just a Knight Templar Parent who committed an Accidental Murder and then became the victim of a Freak Lab Accident, and New Goblin also pulls a Heel–Face Turn. All three movies also have scenes where completely ordinary citizens come to Spidey's aid or at least express support for him. The one major exception to this is Eddie Brock/Venom, who openly says he likes being bad.
    • This sentiment returns full force in Spider-Man: No Way Home as MCU Aunt May convinces Peter to heal and save the villains simply because it’s the right thing to do, no matter what fate says and even after getting mortally wounded by Green Goblin beseeches her nephew not to give up on that compassion. Then there’s the moment where Raimi Peter steps in to prevent MCU Peter killing Norman, giving his younger Alternate Self a Meaningful Look that makes the young Spider-Man yield to his own better nature and let hatred go.
  • Star Wars: Applies to almost every villain:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: The Central Theme of the film. John Connor is determined to save the world and the future without killing anybody. Best shown when he stops Sarah from assassinating Miles Dyson, the creator of Skynet even though it would prevent Judgment Day, and Dyson (being informed and horrified by what his creation would go on to do) ultimately performs a Heroic Sacrifice to destroy his life's work and save humanity.
  • 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 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.
  • 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 (at 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 requests. 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—Maxwell included—sees the error of their ways and immediately renounces their wishes, breaking the Dreamstone's power and emitting a World-Healing Wave.
  • 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 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.

    Game Shows 
  • This pops up on Series 12, Episode 6 of Taskmaster where the prize task asked contestants to bring items for each other. Greg is disappointed that, rather than bringing things to mock, humiliate, or demean each other, the contestants went out of their way to actually buy nice things for each other like a gorgeous painting of a dog Gus has always wanted, with Guz being so touched he outright said Desiree deserved the 5 points for bringing in such a lovely item. When Morgana and Alan promise to give the painting to Guz if they win, Greg utterly loses it.
    Greg: STOP BEING NICE!!!

  • This trope surprisingly fits the works of John Steinbeck. His works are about types of people who lived in the Clutch Plague 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 later 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".)
  • Chief Inspector Armand Gamache: Armand Gamache believes in the inherent goodness of people, that buried deep underneath even the darkest reaches of humanity rests some light.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Faraway Paladin: Protagonist Will Maryblood, who died as a hikikomori in Japan, is given a second chance at life in a fantasy world by the goddess of reincarnation. He's raised to adulthood by three undead former heroes who teach him everything they know and becomes a paladin of the goddess who saved him. This is pretty much the tone of the series: even characters who seem sketchy at first, like Bishop Bagley, turn out to be at least decent if not outright heroic, and even sometime Arc Villain Stagnate is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who hopes to remove the possibility of grief from the world by eliminating death. Only the demons and the foul-dragon Valacirca are true villains, and even Valacirca recognizes Will as a Worthy Opponent.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: Surprisingly for a Dark Fantasy series, the theme that people aren't naturally evil but are made that way by their circumstances comes up a lot. Most of the antagonists turn out to have significant redeeming qualities and/or Freudian Excuses, and Katie's efforts to tame monsters with kindness make a surprising amount of headway. While the mage world and especially Kimberly are amoral and often horrific, a lot of it is driven by fear and ignorance, generational cycles of abuse and revenge, social inertia, and the cynicism of a minority of mage aristocrats. Furthermore a growing number of people are now questioning this status quo, which has a lot of allegorical applicability to the time of writing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Buffyverse, everyone with a soul has a natural urge to do good, though bad people ignore this. Human beings who commit crimes while having souls are thus considered in some ways more tainted than soulless vampires, who are evil because they have no conscience in the first place, but humans are also more capable of redemption (like Faith, for example) without having to be magically re-ensouled. It's an in-universe matter of debate whether to treat re-ensouled vampires like Angel and Spike as reformed villains or separate, innocent people since they only committed atrocities when their souls weren't present (and not during their human lives as Liam and William), even though they remember all of it.
  • 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.
  • Seems to be borne out by the series premise of Dark Matter (2015): a crew of ruthless mercenaries whose crimes are so extensive that they're on the galaxy's most wanted list and spoken about in rumor and whisper awaken from stasis aboard their ship in the pilot episode with all their memories erased, and upon learning about themselves from the ship's database, decide to defend the mining colony that Ferrous Corp (one of many evil Mega Corps in the setting) sent them to exterminate. They are literally reduced to Blank Slates with more of a tendency towards good than bad.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor believes this... most of the time. Occasionally, the humans around them prove them wrong. Doesn't seem to stop them from giving the Patrick Stewart speeches, though.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The nature of good and evil is disputed several times:
    • Arondir and his warden, Revion, have an interesting debate about the Southlanders possible fall from grace just like their ancestors who stood with Morgoth in the War of Wrath. Revion believes that the Southlanders never changed their nature. Arondir tries to argue that what happened was a long time ago and the Southlanders are not their ancestors, but Revion reminds him that they aren't stationed in the Southlands to watch over its inhabitants because of what they ancestors did, but because is in their nature to join the Evil if changes arise. Several episodes later, a part of the Southlanders led by Waldreg —who is secretly a Morgoth worshipper— do chose to join Adar's Orcish forces, proving Medhor's point.
    • About the evil nature of Orcs, the show went with Tolkien's idea of them being corrupted by evil, rather than being born inherently evil. The Orcs that appear are portrayed in a more sympathetic light than most adaptations, and their origins are explained.
  • 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 Freudian Excuse for being evil, with the exception of Cruella de Vil, who poisoned her father and stepfathers as a little girl simply because she enjoyed it.
  • 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 have flaws 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 it's 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. Which still fails, as they help each other become better people instead.
  • Roseanne was a groundbreaking sitcom because it pulled no punches about the Crapsack World its characters lived in. The Conners were decidedly lower-class, constantly struggled economically (to the point of losing heat and electricity on multiple occasions), and faced few job prospects or chances to escape the small town of Lanford, Illinois. But despite the constant presence of poverty and hopelessness, the characters were mostly good people who made the most of their situation and used humor, community, and love to cope with the pain. Roseanne herself is perhaps the best example: she's abrasive, rude, sarcastic, and often frustrated by her life not turning out as she planned, but she has a heart of gold and wants nothing but to make sure that her children's lives end up better than hers did.
    • The Season One finale, "Let's Call It Quits," deals with this trope. Wellman Plastics, where Roseanne, Jackie, and the rest of the female members of the cast work, gets a new boss named Mr. Faber who is a genuinely terrible human being that treats the women like slaves. When Roseanne finally can't take his cruelty any longer, she quits, and Faber reminds the rest of the company that there are two options for them now: "One that pays, and one that doesn't." Without saying a word, all of the other women stand up and punch out their time cards, leaving Faber without a crew. All of the women have families, limited education, and very few options in terms of other jobs they can get, but they still choose to remain independent and help one another rather than work for a misogynistic monster. It's also worth noting that Roseanne herself realizes that Faber only acts the way he does because of his own demons: "He doesn't want any of us to be OK. You know why? Because he's not OK."
  • This is the overarching story with Unknown Species 10-C in Star Trek: Discovery season 4. They launch a Dark Matter Anomaly into the Beta Quadrant, wreaking havoc across the cosmos, obliterating planets with seemingly no rhyme or reason. As the season goes on, we learn more about the DMA and ultimately come to realize that Species 10-C is Obliviously Evil, just trying to find a way to power their Invisibility Cloak to protect them from the universe at large. They're ultimately met in a First Contact, convincing them to stand down and stop.

  • In Yureka, the game Lost Saga was programmed with this in mind and grants massive stat bonuses/abilities to players who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. That doesn't stop some people from abusing the system, however.

  • 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 for 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.

    Mythology & 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.
    Ephesians 2:3: Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath.
    • That being said, humans were created as good by God, but they were corrupted by original sin. Thus humans being sanctified is a process of restoring our original innocent state we had in the Garden of Eden. So in a very roundabout way, we are only pushed to do evil by our circumstances. It's just that said circumstances are almost always present.
  • Played straight in Islam, which teaches that all children are born with faith in God. They are simply indoctrinated into different religions after birth. The state of original innocence is called Fitra, and all humans have an innate understanding of God's oneness.
    Surah 7:172: And remember when your Lord brought forth from the loins of the children of Adam their descendants and had them testify regarding themselves. Allah asked, "Am I not your Lord?" They replied, "Yes, You are! We testify.""
    The Prophet Muhammad (Sahih Muslim 2658e): No babe is born but upon Fitra. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist.

  • 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 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Drow are usually believed to be Always Chaotic Evil because they are born that way. He may be a cliché nowadays, but Drizzt Do'Urden proves otherwise.
  • In Nomine: The Menunim firmly believe that humans are fundamentally good and naturally inclined towards becoming their best selves. As such, they mostly limit their interventions to gentle pushes and subtle influences, as they believe that that's all that's truly needed to influence people toward goodness.

    Video Games 
  • Elohim Eternal: The Babel Code: Although the Idinites and Cainites have been at war since history began, the Kosmokraters had to repeatedly sabotage any attempts at peace and worsen the casualties of the war in order to keep the war going. Additionally, the Jehudans and Attikans would have been friendly rivals, but the Kosmokraters used the Infernos to make the two sides blame each other and start a civil war.
  • 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 overtake 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 EarthBound Beginnings 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. Also, most villains you beat up in EarthBound (Frank, Everdred, Mr. Monotoly) turn good afterwards.
  • There are no real villains 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, an 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 is, 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 stating 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 in to the authorities, and according to Nancy's monologue, it takes a while 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" (really 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.
  • Persona:
    • Despite its heavy focus on death, Persona 3 arguably fits this. Part of its focus on death is how the fear of death or fixation on it can drive one to madness, or to hurt others.
      • When Mitsuru’s grandfather learned about the prophecy of the Fall, he saw it as inevitable, and so directed his organization’s resources towards causing it to happen.
      • The Strega group of Persona-users, a death-obsessed cult they may be, were once orphans out on the street who were used and abused in the Kirijo Group’s Persona experiments. One of them, Chidori, is shown to still hold a spark of love for life deep down. Over the course of the game, Junpei gradually brings that spark to the surface by showing her genuine kindness and love, leading to her sacrificing herself for him.
      • Even the resident major Eldritch Abominations, Nyx and Erebus, are not naturally malevolent. Nyx simply exists to bring about the Fall, and Erebus exists to embody humanity’s collective desire for death. At one point, Nyx actually takes on the form of a human, Ryoji Mochizuki, and comes to genuinely bond with SEES, its future enemies, as a friend. Before leaving them to initiate the Fall, Ryoji actually offered to lessen their later suffering by stripping their memories of him and the approaching disaster. The only exception to this would be Ikutsuki, who was just obsessed with causing the Fall because he believed that he’d get to become a god in the world that would result from it.
    • Persona 4 also follows this. The Shadow Selves of the major protagonists of the game represent the dark sides of their hosts. But rather than simply being their “evil halves” or “darkness within”, something to just be destroyed, they represent the suppressed worries and fears they carry inside themselves, feelings they develop in reaction to the difficulties in their lives. The only way to overcome a Shadow Self isn’t to destroy them, but rather, to accept them as part of oneself, at which point they turn into a Persona, representing how the protagonists can live with their flaws and still turn out okay.
      • The suspects of the Inaba murder case also didn’t start out as monstrous, either. Namatame turned out to be Good All Along, and was just being manipulated by the true culprit. Mitsuo may have been a creep and eventual murderer, but it’s alluded to multiple times beforehand how his mind was warped by growing up isolated. Even Adachi, the true killer who doubles as a Psychopathic Manchild, very, very deep down, retains a spark of decency within him, that being the result of his genuine friendship with his partner Dojima. Persona 4: Arena Ultimax, which continues the stories of both P4 and P3, even ends on the implication that Adachi, of all people, really could be genuinely reformed one day.
      • The game’s finale drives it home with the truth of the fog. The fog was released by a deity called Izanami. Her motive for doing so? Because she believed that engulfing the Earth in the fog was what humanity as a whole desired. The plot began when she gave 3 people (Namatame, Adachi, and the Player Character) the power to enter the TV world. She did so for the sake of stirring things up in Inaba and testing the people’s reactions. When she saw Adachi being the most “active” of the three, she decided that Adachi’s desires best represented the desires of man; hence, why she tried to engulf the real world in the fog. When she’s defeated by the Investigation Team, she accepts her defeat gracefully, genuinely congratulating the heroes for surpassing her. Then, when the fog is lifted completely, it reveals the TV world to really be a lush, flowering paradise. According to Teddie, this world is the actual world deep inside the hearts of humanity. In other words, beneath all their vices, Humans Are Good.

    • 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.
  • Psychonauts and its sequels all have three human villains (Coach Oleander, Dr. Loboto, and Lucrecia Mux) who, as it turns out, were originally normal people made evil because of something that happened to them in the past. Coach Oleander had childhood trauma as well as resentment stemming from getting kicked out of the military that contributed to his Sanity Slippage, Loboto was raised by his psychic-hating parents who gave him a lobotomy just so he could be "normal" (and this event is implied to have been behind his insanity and losing his moral compass), and Lucrecia went insane over accidentally killing her sister and chose to embrace the identity of a madwoman rather than give into the guilt, her PTSD manifesting as her Maligula alter ego. All three of them end up getting redeemed at the end, and the only villain who refuses to redeem himself is Gristol Malik, a spoiled former prince whose family took advantage of Lucrecia and was the cause behind her madness. The mental villains usually avert this, but this is justified by the fact that they are mental constructs usually representing bad or negative thought processes.
  • Destiny: The Traveler is an entity of untold power that travels the cosmos, terraforms worlds, and uplifts civilizations. Why? Because it can. It helps others because it has the opportunity to do so. This is actually a direct contributor to the overarching conflict of the series - the Big Bad of the setting, the Witness, opposes the Traveler due to both the potential destructive power of the Light and the lack of Guidance the Traveler/Gardener offered. The Witness (and the civilization that created it) simply cannot envision an all powerful entity using the power of the Light to help others because it can - it seeks meaning where none exists.

    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?
  • No Case Should Remain Unsolved: Despite the fact that the plot revolves around the mysterious disappearence of a little girl that happened under very suspicious circumstances, the story is surprisingly idealistic. Song Minyeong didn't harm Seowon and only kidnapped her because she was suffering from a serious mental illness. Her ex-husband returned Seowon to her father and tried to take the blame himself to protect his wife, but the detective in charge of the case let him go. Seowon's father didn't even press charges, he was just grateful that his daughter was fine. And while Song Minyeong's mental state worsened and she was institutionalized, her ex-husband still cares about her and constantly visits her. Even Jeon Gyeong, who doesn't really have a stake in this anymore, spent months helping her recover.

  • DICE: The Cube That Changes Everything: There are a lot of selfish people in the series, but the manhwa argues they have the right to follow their own dreams, and most Dicers have a Freudian Excuse of some kind. Author's notes state that aside "maybe" Teacher Kim and X's father, nobody is truly evil.
  • 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.
  • This comic from A Softer World:
    I believe most people are inherently good.
    But overcoming our nature
    is what separates us from animals.note 

    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. The predator and prey get along fine, and the ever-boastful Thurston Troodon has a good heart deep down.
    • Ready Jet Go!: Jet is an All-Loving Hero who 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 by 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, which is usually done by human characters, especially Lilo.
  • 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.
      • The Lich seems to be the closest thing to avert this trope, but even then, the existence of Sweet P as a Lich incarnation and him rebelling against his past self heavily implies that his existence overall is one big Redemption Quest for the Lich.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Lilith and Hunter are also good deep down despite their horrible acts. They were conditioned/brainwashed by the Emperor's Coven, but are learning to change.
  • 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 a 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.