The Danger of Valuing Principles Over People

“L Lawliet” by Autlaw (autlaw.deviantart.com).

Growing up, I always tried to be the “obedient kid”—the one who followed all the rules and stayed out of trouble. Coupled with the fact that I usually kept to myself, this made it very easy for me to look down on those who didn’t abide by the same rules I did. I’d engage with people, but I always carefully judged them against my standards. As a result of my constant judgment, I pushed myself further and further into isolation, always keeping my distance from those who didn’t live up to my values.

This mindset became very toxic in my mid-to-late teen years. As I got older, my standards grew higher and higher, and I found myself mentally denouncing just about everyone around me. Church groups, circles of friends, school activities—I saw what I believed to be major flaws in all of them, and I used these as excuses to disassociate myself from many of these people.

The two main characters of the anime Death Note, Light and L, both adhere strongly to their own ideas about what’s right and wrong. They also each possess the ability to impose their philosophies on the world around them: Light has a notebook with which he can kill anyone just by writing their names, and tries to purge the world of crime by killing convicted criminals. Meanwhile L, who is heralded as the world’s greatest detective and has access to many of the world’s law enforcement resources, views Light’s actions as murder and begins hunting him down.

Viewers often take sides with one of these two characters; after all, they’re both driven by seemingly noble goals. Yet, they also share the same crippling flaw: they value their principles more than they value people. They each believe themselves to be absolutely correct in their convictions, and as a result are willing to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. As the series progresses, it reveals how much damage this attitude has done to both of them as people, as they both tragically stray from their once-noble paths.

This corruption is most obvious in Light’s case. While he starts off killing only those who have been convicted of horrific crimes, his goal of a pure world without crime eventually leads him to rationalize that anyone who stands in his way is guilty and deserves to die.

L, despite his fierce opposition to Light’s beliefs, mirrors this way of thinking. When confronted with a chance to arrest the murderer he’s been hunting, he chooses to allow the killings to continue so that he can gather more information to prevent any similar murderers from rising. While this approach seems pragmatic, he completely disregards the real people he’s sacrificing, and his colleagues immediately call him out on his callousness.

Judging everyone all the time gets lonely.

A few months after I graduated high school, I found myself in a position where I had lost most of my friends, had no job, and seldom interacted with anyone outside my immediate family. I’d clung so closely to the lofty principles I’d established, and to my own undeserved feelings of superiority, that I almost completely cut myself off from everyone. It was only because of the persistent kindness of my family and the few friends I had left that I was able to stop judging people and start knowing them instead. Some of my favourite people over the last few years have been people I may never have even talked to if I were still wrapped up in my own elitist worldview.

Interestingly, Death Note directly comments on the destructiveness of putting personal values on too high of a pedestal. Early on, Light tells Ryuk, the character who gave him the Death Note, that he plans to get rid of everyone whom he judges to be a bad person. Amused, Ryuk replies, “If you did that, it would make you the only bad person left.”

I grew up always believing that I was a humble person. Now I’m learning what true humility is. It’s an incredibly slow, difficult process. I want to be a person who can truly connect with others rather than always focusing on what our differences are. Judging everyone all the time gets lonely, and for the sake of my friends, my relationships, and myself, I’m never letting myself go there again.

Ian Hancock

Ian Hancock

Guest Writer at Area of Effect magazine
Ian is a speculative fiction writer with an English degree from the University of the Fraser Valley. When he's not writing, he enjoys strategy games, hockey, anime, and finding new ways to make fun of life.
Ian Hancock

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