While I normally leave the discussions of movie, tv, radio and the like to my colleague, I’m going to make an exception this week. Over the weekend, I went to see Divergent. I’ve read the entire trilogy, so I’ve been looking forward to its release for quite a while. (Yes, I do read young adult fiction. I can’t read scholarly articles all the time!)
For those of you who haven’t yet read the book (or seen the movie), I’ll give you a quick overview…
In the futuristic Chicago of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, citizens are divided into five factions. Each faction celebrates and cultivates a particular virtue in its members:
Dauntless – Bravery
Erudite – Knowledge/Intelligence
Candor – Honesty
Amity – Peacemaking
Abnegation – Selflessness
While Divergent is not the first (and likely won’t be the last) in the recent string of dystopian young adult fiction, I’ve appreciated the leadership discussion embedded within the story. Throughout the books, there are implicit questions about what characteristics or virtues really make a person fit to lead.
Early in the books, all of the leaders of society come from Abnegation. It’s assumed that those who are humble and selfless are best able to make decisions and allocate resources in a way that will serve all of society.
Some characters in the story believe that the Erudite are best suited for leadership because of their high intelligence, commitment to learning, and diligent study.
There are also a number of decisions by leaders in the book that allow the reader to consider ethical dilemmas of leadership. They are the same sort of questions we consider in my classes:
- Do the ends justify the means in leadership?
- Is manipulation an appropriate tool for leadership?
- Does the leader have the greater responsibility to reveal all information to followers, or to protect them from potentially harmful information?
These are the same kinds of questions that philosophers and students of politics, history, and leadership have been asking for centuries. Forgive my over-simplification of these heavy philosophical works, but many of the most significant writings in history have assumed that only certain people should lead or that they should lead in particular ways:
- Plato designed his ideal society in the Republic with philosophers as his rulers of choice.
- Machiavelli’s Prince argues that “it is far safer to be feared than loved”as a leader.
- Locke says no one should be subjected to the will of another and advocates for majority rule.
- Carlyle believes that those who possess divinely inspired knowledge have the right to lead.
I’m not sure that we consistently ask such deep questions about our leaders today. It would seem we are often more interested in results, final products, and track record rather than with character, virtue, and ethical perspective when it comes to our leaders. Perhaps we need to reframe the kinds of questions we ask during presidential debates, CEO interviews, and pastoral searches to reflect a deeper kind of thinking about who should lead.
I’m also thrilled that we (as human beings and as leaders) can possess more than one faction’s virtues. I think I might really appreciate following a selfless, courageous, honest, peacemaking leader who also wants to study to gain additional knowledge and skill. And while maybe that person is too perfect to exist outside of the pages of fiction, I’d like to believe that our leaders would value all of those virtues enough to surround themselves with co-workers, mentors, counselors, and advisers who supplement their areas of weaknesses.
What about you? Who do you believe ought to lead?