John P. Frazee, Director of Faculty Relations, University of Colorado-Boulder

May 4, 2012

I had the pleasure of seeing the traveling production of the musical "Wicked" earlier this week. It was hugely entertaining--and surprisingly thought-provoking.

"Wicked" retells the story of "The Wizard of Oz" from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. Making Elphaba the center of the story allows us to see her not as a cartoonish villain but as a being with her own desires, heartaches, strengths, and weaknesses. We see, too, that once Elphaba has been labeled the Wicked Witch, all her actions are, by definition, wicked. In the end, we we've come to see that the label "wicked" misrepresents Elphaba's character, motives, and actions, just as the conventionally "good" characters like Glinda, the Good Witch, are a mixture of virtues and vices.

This retelling of the familiar Oz story ultimately makes clear that human behavior (including the behavior of witches!) is far too complicated to be labeled either "good" or "wicked."

My takeaway? What's true in Oz is true in real life as well. When an incident occurs or a conflict develops, our natural inclination is to tell ourselves a story in which we're the hero (or victim) and the other the villain: John was "uncollegial." Mary was "disrespectful." Greg is a "bad actor." You can be sure that John, Mary, and Greg have told themselves a very different story.

Lots of conflicts could be reduced or even eliminated by asking the other party to tell his or her story.

So the next time you find yourself in a conflict, try asking, "What would 'Wicked' do?"