“For non-conformity the world whips you with its displeasure.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Over the course of many weeks, I watched Eden, my then 12-year old daughter, absolutely devour the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth. Every week or so, I would see another book in the series on her nightstand (or on the floor, or in my car, or in the bathroom, or in my luggage, or in my toolbox, or in the refrigerator). You get the point.
Of course, I assumed that surely these were salacious books filled with teen romance and everything I did not want my daughter consuming at such a young and impressionable age. Being the father and fulfilling the “dad” role, I asked about the books and the plot line and she said, “Dad, these books are amazing! The story takes place in post-apocalyptic Chicago and there are five clans or classes that society forces people into based upon their disposition or what they care for.” Intrigued, I probed for more information. “This is how ‘the bad guys’ control the masses and organize life.” Attempting to curry favor with the munchkin, I told her, “it sounds like junior high.” She laughed (I patted myself on the back) and continued on with her rather robust and painfully detailed description. I asked her about the five clans or classes. She rattled them off like a professor who had been immersed in a subject for the better part of his or her existence. It went a little something like this:
“You have Abnegation, they are the givers, the individuals who are selfless and care for others; kind of like mom and Nana. They are the humanitarians.
You have Dauntless, they are the brave warriors, the fighters, the soldiers.
Then you have the Erudite, they are the brains, the really smart people, kind of like you dad. (I thought “kind of?”, but I digress).
Then you have Candor, this is the faction that is extremely honest and will tell you exactly what they think, kind of like Pops.
And then finally, you have Amity, this faction are the peaceable ones, individuals who love peace.
And then there is this girl named “Tris”, she is Divergent.” I braced myself for the other shoe to fall, and thought to myself while imagining burning these books, ‘Yes, Tris is the rebellious girl who smokes dope, has a tattoo of a dragon on her back, carries a pack of filterless Camels rolled up in her sleeve, drives a Harley, and has five children as a teenager that each fit into one of these categories. But instead, restraint carried the day and I said, “Ok, go on.” “Tris is Divergent, she doesn’t fit in any of these factions because she thinks independently and if found out, she will be killed.”
As you can imagine, I was quite relieved. I then asked, “Why would they kill her?” Eden looked at me like I had just asked her what a cow was and she stated, “Because independence or not fitting in to one of the factions will disrupt the structure and control of the ruling class. If people don’t follow the rules and conform to their role, society will break apart.” I thought to myself, the stories change for each individual generation, but the plot line always remains the same.
I immediately recalled Don Miguel Ruiz’s statement, “Children are domesticated the same way that we domesticate a dog, a cat, or any other animal. In order to teach a dog we punish the dog and we give it rewards. We train our children whom we love so much the same way that we train any domesticated animal: with a system of punishment and reward. We are told, ‘You’re a good boy,’ or ‘You’re a good girl,’ when we do what Mom and Dad want us to do. When we don’t, we are a ‘bad girl’ or a ‘bad boy.” I kissed Eden goodnight and mentally thanked Veronica Roth for writing these books and perpetuating the lesson that conformity and socialized expectations rob an individual of their uniqueness and ultimately their contribution.
I went back to my bedroom and looked up the series and located the movie tagline, “What makes you different, makes you dangerous.” Not too many weeks later, Eden and I sat in a movie theater filled with nothing but young people, frustrated I didn’t get there earlier to get a better seat.
What makes you different, does not actually make you dangerous, it is the road to differentiation, being a maverick, and making a dent in history. I hope my daughter learned the importance of this lesson. I hope I do too.