Divergent chicago skyline

In the five months before I saw Divergent, I went to the gym twice. In the five months since then, I’ve been just over fifty times (as well as making forays into interval sprints and Crossfit). A lot of things came together to make that happen, but no small part of it was that I found the movie incredibly inspirational. [Warning: spoilers ahead! You may want to watch a trailer or something if you haven’t seen it but don’t care]

The protagonist of Divergent, Tris, is meant to embody two archetypes, whose combination creates a potent vision of something almost scarily near my ideal self. One is the faction which she chooses to align herself with - Dauntless - and the other is her Divergent nature.

In this world, teenagers take a sophisticated experiential test to tell them which of five factions their personality best suits; they then choose their faction and live out their lives in that group. However, a small minority of people are “Divergent,” which means they have character traits of more than one faction. To me this trait seems closely related to what CFAR means by “rationality.” Most people have roughly one way of thinking, of approaching problems, of making sense of reality. Divergence is the ability to pop-frame (or “go meta”) on your approach, then adopt a new mindset that’s better suited to the situation at hand. “I don't want to be just one thing. I want to be brave and selfless and intelligent and honest and kind.”

Dauntless is the faction that wears boots and leather, does parkour, and serves as the police/military for this fictional world (the other factions - roughly - are scientists, farmers, caregivers, and judges). They’re badasses. The movie does portray some negative or corrupted aspects of this archetype but I’m going to ignore them. Here's what I admire about the Dauntless archetype:

  • Courage: “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” They believe in taking right action whether or not that action is hard or painful.
  • Action: When the shit hits the fan, Tris’ Dauntless training allows her to take effective, decisive action to protect what’s important to her, when everyone else is floundering. The Dauntless are physically and mentally tough, with well-honed reflexes. “Fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up.”
  • Passion: The Dauntless live life fully, intensely, and with a sense of play. They run around for fun, create ziplines through abandoned buildings, and climb random stuff. There’s an attitude of enjoyment and abandon. They interact with their physical environment more fully than almost anyone I know.

Aspiration to “Dauntless virtue” is what keeps me going at the end of a tough workout (often literally listening to this or this, which are mixed together in the moment when Tris chooses to join Dauntless and realizes that her world has just gotten much more colorful, exciting, and risky), or what keeps me focused at the end of a long day at CFAR (this, played over the credits, after a closing scene which reaches for a sense that more is possible). I want to be that strong, prepared, effective, and alive.

Both the Dauntless and Divergent approaches seem quite valuable. Example: faction training involves work with “fear serums” that create an extremely realistic simulated world in which initiates must repeatedly face their worst fears, and learn to act in spite of them (Turbocharging Training, anyone?). The “Dauntless” approach to the fear is that you must learn to work through it - not to freeze, and to find something in your environment that will let you conquer or overcome the fearful situation. However, because Tris is Divergent, she has another tool: she remembers that the simulation isn’t real, and thus has the power to re-shape her reality (for example).

At the climax of the movie, the antagonist, Jeanine, unleashes a computer algorithm which will kill thousands of people unless Tris can get her to reverse it. Jeanine holds firm even when Tris puts a knife to her throat. When Tris doesn’t follow through, Jeanine taunts “Maybe you’re not quite as Dauntless as you thought you were.” But in truth Tris has already noticed that the ‘Dauntless’ approach won’t work here, and put together a new plan: a shot of a suggestibility serum lying on the ground nearby. She successfully injects Jeanine with the serum and then simply asks her to reverse the algorithm, retorting “You’re right, I’m not. I’m Divergent.”

For me? I want them both. I want the ability to act effectively within a frame, especially a frame that feels as important as Dauntless; but when necessary, I want to frame shift - I want to be Divergent.