The Paw Patrol Syndrome

Why everybody’s mad at one another right now…and what to do about it.


When my kids were around the age of 4 and 5, they became obsessed with the cartoon Paw Patrol. Finding out what problem Ryder and his 6 pups would face – and inevitably solve – was what helped to get them out of bed in the morning before school and kept them quiet on long drives to the cottage. Truth be told, I was secretly a fan as well.

However, I noticed that something started to change in the third season. Up until then, each week focused on a totally unique dilemma – saving sea turtles, fixing the Adventure Bay lighthouse, or finding Mayor Goodway’s lost purse-chicken. But suddenly, every episode focused on the pups dealing with the evil doing of Mayor Humdinger and his Catastrophe Kittens. The show had established a villain.

I’m not sure why I was surprised. There is something hardwired in us that craves a villain. We want to see good vs. evil. We need a bad guy. Star Wars needed Darth Vader. Batman needed the Joker. The Wizard of Oz needed the Wicked Witch of the West. And Paw Patrol needed Mayor Humdinger.

This Paw Patrol Syndrome exists in the real world as well. We want someone to represent what is wrong and unjust in our lives. We need someone we can direct our anger and frustration towards. We require someone that will help us remain confident that we are – in fact – the good guys.

Unfortunately, sometimes we need a villain so badly, we label other people (or groups of people) as the bad guy, even when they aren’t.

Think about it. Right now, it seems like everyone is mad at each other for something:

  • Here in Canada, we are days away from a federal election. If you speak with someone who leans to the right, they’ll often describe the party leader on the left as the bad guy – someone who obviously don’t care about individual freedom or a thriving economy. Then talk to someone on the left, and they’ll explain to you how the leader of the right-wing party, in fact, the villain. Someone who is secretly waiting to bring in racist and misogynist policies.
  • In my small town, we are currently wrestling with the ramifications of a newly imposed COVID-19 vaccine passport. I’ve listened to people who disagree with the passport describe store owners and facility managers who are imposing them (as they are required to do by law) as “complicit with the government who is becoming more communist.” I’ve also listened to store owners and facility managers talk about the passport resisters as people who only care about their individual rights and obviously don’t care about their friends and neighbours.
  • In workplaces that have had to redeploy staff to focus on COVID-19 responsibilities, I’ve heard staff describe their managers as people who don’t care about them personally and are responsible for the stability and reputation of their organization slipping away. I’ve heard the managers talk about their staff as people who only care about themselves and are incapable of embracing any sort of change.

In all three cases, rather than acknowledging the complexity of the situation, and being open to the fact that there might be some truth that exists on both sides, people have instead taken the easy road, and made the other person(s) the villain. They needed a bad guy!

Here’s my challenge. Next time you’re dealing with a complex and frustrating situation, and realize that you’ve possibly made a person or a group of people the villain, pause and ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What value(s) does this person have, that I share? For example, regardless of how you vote, I bet that most people on both sides of the political spectrum are voting in the hopes of a thriving country that is a safe place of opportunity for their friends and families.
  2. What wisdom or insight might this person have, that I’m missing out on? For example, whatever your “side” is on vaccine passports, chances are you’re talking more with people who share that view and watching news channels and social media feeds that support your bias. This means you have blind spots and could potentially be missing out on important information. This doesn’t require you to exchange your point of view, but it might allow you to expand
  3. Have I convinced myself that this person is a bad person? 99.9% of people (including yourself) are goodish. This means that we are not perfect, we make mistakes, and we can be a misguided at times; however, for the most part we are trying to make the world a better place, care about our friends and family, and are striving to become a better version of ourselves. If you’re struggling with another person, push yourself to look for those goodish qualities in them.

It’s human nature to look for a villain, but it seems that right now, people are suffering from the Paw Patrol Syndrome more than ever. The division and polarization of our countries, communities and workplaces seems to have everyone mad at one another. We need more people who can rise above this lose/lose trap. People who can see wisdom in resistance; who are curious about different points of view; and who have compassion towards people they disagree with.

Let’s be those people!

Tim Arnold

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