Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Being complex is hard


Over the weekend D and I went to see the film Divergent, based on the novel by the same name. I read the book and enjoyed it, so I wanted to see the film even though it had been getting mixed reviews. That night we were in the mood for an action movie so it hit the spot and we both really liked it. But what I really have to give it credit for was giving D and I a lot to talk about afterward over dinner.

As a fan of science fiction I particularly love stories set in dystopian society. These alternate realities are often created around an extreme response to world challenges. In Fahrenheit 451 society has outlawed all books, in Brave New World everyone is drugged to stay happy, in The Giver there is no knowledge of past history, and in 1984 there is Big Brother. The idea behind all these dystopias is that free will is what causes violence and war, especially when combined with knowledge. So in order to bring peace and happiness we need to find ways to suppress emotions, feelings, and sometimes even thoughts: people need to conform. But of course the costs are high and the books are about that tension. In Divergent, as a response to some kind of large scale war society is divided up into factions. Each faction focuses on one strength and all members of that faction are to comply with the values, goals, and routines of that faction. At age 16 each person gets to select which faction best matches them and once there they are expected to conform, or they become one of the "faction-less"(a fate seen as worse than death). That is where Divergent starts, when the main character must choose which faction to join. The choices are: Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the Intelligent.

There are some interesting things to think about here. Recently at my work the executive team has been discussing possible team building exercises. One of the concepts we're working with is Strength Finder. The idea is that every person has strengths and weaknesses and apparently it's been proven that people are more productive if they work in areas that meet their strengths. Seems obvious but it's important to think about when staffing and resourcing. On a team of people you will probably have a mix of skill-sets and knowing how to best utilize those is important for efficiency and accord. if you think of society as one large team working towards a goal, then it makes sense to put people in groups that work towards their strengths.

But what D and I ended up discussing over dinner was two fold. The first was the idea that being able to commit yourself to one goal can give freedom. In the book the protagonist talks about how free the Dauntless seem. They work to rid themselves of fear and that lack of fear gives them freedom. And I'm sure that could be said for any of the other factions. For example, committing yourself and living by total honesty would also set you free. So, is one of the reasons we all struggle in our lives to some that we are trying to excel in all these areas and they conflict? Sometimes being selfless doesn't go along with being smart. Sometimes honesty doesn't go along with kindness. Being a complex human means we need to constantly navigate our priorities and values. The goal I believe is still to find freedom and peace within the ongoing negotiation, but it reveals why it can often be difficult to achieve.

The second thing was if we were in the protagonists situation, what faction would we choose? D and I both agreed that I would choose Erudite, the faction that values knowledge. They love research and understanding how things work. I'd be happy in a life devoted to learning. D was not as clear at first, but then I realized he'd of course be Candor who value truth and honesty. While this "game" may seem juvenile it was a good way to think about what D and I each bring to the relationship and the ways that our values often align, but sometimes don't.

So, thank you for a fun night Divergent. I'm hoping the second book offers some additional things to ponder.

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