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How To Use Veronica Roth's Divergent to Talk to Your Teen About Life Values

Updated on June 19, 2016

Talk About Life Priorities With Your Teen In A Fun, Engaging Way

At age 11, my daughter got to experience hang gliding.  What an adventure!  Do you see her "Dauntless" quality showing?
At age 11, my daughter got to experience hang gliding. What an adventure! Do you see her "Dauntless" quality showing? | Source

Meet Your Teen On His Or Her Level To Discuss Life Priorities

The teen years are filled with eye rolls, texting, skinny jeans, friends, and dystopian novels that become blockbuster movies.

If you're looking for a fun way to connect with your teen, consider reading Divergent, by Veronica Roth, a dystopian page-turner with an underlying message. Your conversation can be a gateway to discussing personal life priorities, values, and what makes each of you tick.

You just may find you learn something about yourself and your teen.


Plot Summary: The Future Of the Human Race

The setting is a not-too-distant future in which the human race is cleanly divided into five major groups, or factions.

Each faction is organized to uphold a central human virtue:

  • selflessness (Abnegation)
  • peacemaking (Amity)
  • honesty (Candor)
  • bravery (Dauntless), or
  • knowledge-seeking (Erudite).

A faction's key virtue defines the group's purpose and members' life priorities.

Accordingly, each faction has strict ideas about the root of society's undoing and what it takes to be a successful person. Members of each faction differ drastically from one another in both their outward appearances and behavior.

Setting for Divergent Series: Futuristic Chicago

A markerChicago, Illinois, USA -
Chicago, IL, USA
get directions

Belonging Is Everything

Imagine yourself as a member of Divergent's dystopian society.

At age 16, you undergo aptitude testing. Then, on a pre-designated day, you must make a life-altering choice in a Choosing Ceremony: forever align yourself with one of the five factions.

Pledges must promise allegiance to their faction above family and all else. ("Faction before blood.") There is no turning back.

If you hesitate ... if you fail initiation ... if your choice is not the correct one for you ... then you risk a fate worse than death. In a world where belonging is everything, becoming "Factionless" means living as a pathetic societal outcast.

What values does your teen hold dear?
What values does your teen hold dear? | Source

Divergent's Five Factions: A Quick Overview

Defining Value
Peaceful accord
Key Actions
Sacrifices large and small to aid others' comfort, safety, and happiness
Bringing people, especially groups, together
Can read body language and see through lies
Directly faces danger, threats, and difficulties
Studies, seeks to understand how the world operates
Grey clothes, uniforms, plain hairstyle
Comfortable, casual clothing, often bright yellow and red
Black suits & white ties (they see the world in black and white)
Pierced, tattooed, clothed in all black
Wear glasses whether they need them or not; item of blue clothing
Could Be Perceived As
Quiet, aloof, naïve, submissive
Indecisive, charismatic
Tactless, trustworthy, confident
Abrasive, thrill seekers, fighters
Power hungry, know-it-alls
Real World Examples
Nuns, monks
UN peacekeepers, diplomats
Navy SEALs
World class surgeons and scientists

The Main Character's Dilemma

This is the reality that Veronica Roth presents in her dystopian page-turner.

The main character is a 16 year-old girl named Beatrice ("Tris"), who must face the choice of her young lifetime. Should she stay with her family and the self-denying group she was born into? Alternatively, should she forsake them and join another group that aligns more closely with her values?

Beatrice's personal struggle is magnified by the fact that her aptitude test results demonstrate that she possesses a rare quality. Her results show that she is kind, brave, and knowledge-seeking. She is an appropriate "fit" for three groups. Yet, she can only belong to one.

This unusual quality makes her "Divergent," or different from others. Being Divergent is extremely dangerous, and Beatrice is told that she must conceal this fact.

What would you do? Which value is more important to you?

Abnegation: The Virtue of Self-Sacrifice

Mother Theresa was the epitome of abnegation, or self-sacrifice.  Who else lives this value?
Mother Theresa was the epitome of abnegation, or self-sacrifice. Who else lives this value? | Source

Abnegation: Real World Examples

Real world examples of people who might fit this faction include nuns and monks.

It may also include Red Cross volunteers who travel around from one disaster location to another, offering comfort and assistance to victims of tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters.

A retired nurse, my aunt was such a volunteer. She even refused nominal subsistence payment for living expenses. She was dispatched to New York City to help in the aftermath of 9/11.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies; succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them.

— Mother Theresa

Today's Young Adults Face Similar Challenges

Roth's series -- Divergent (2012), Insurgent (2012), Allegiant (2013) and Four (2014)-- captures key struggles of becoming an adult. In many ways, the story line mirrors the challenges that today's teens face.

The story follows Beatrice as she struggles to define herself. She grapples with love, guilt, and grief as well as the challenge of assessing who is worthy of her trust. This is not easy.

In her journey, she discovers that her perfectly ordered society has strong undercurrents of inter-group conflict, just as today's world does. Most of all, Beatrice learns what it means to belong.

The young woman's quest to determine just how and where she fits in to a changing society strongly mirrors challenges that today's young adults face. For example, high stakes aptitude testing (e.g., SAT, ACT, GATB, or ASVAB) often imparts clear messages about an individual's fitness for a given path in life.

In Divergent, there is value-based aptitude testing which helps to determine young people's futures. In real life, there are college entrance exams and career aptitude tests. Results can have similar long-reaching consequences for adolescents.

Today's teens also face their own version of a Choosing Ceremony, although it is less formal than in Divergent. Young adults must decide whether to stay close to family and the community where they grew up or instead whether to join another "group" by attending college out-of-state. It isn't typically an easy decision.

Choosing to follow your own path can certainly feel like you are forsaking those who raised you when there are high expectations to join a family business or fulfill a parent's occupational dreams for you. It takes fortitude and a solid sense of self to listen to your inner compass, as Beatrice did.

Just as faction newbies did in Roth's book, today's teens also face indoctrination and initiation processes. Military recruits, for example, face boot camp. College students undergo exams to ensure that they are worthy of continued membership in their new group.

What challenges does your teen face in defining herself? Does s/he feel equipped to make the right choices?

Candor: The Virtue of Honesty

Honest Abe
Honest Abe | Source

Candor: A Real World Example

A judge described Abraham Lincoln's honesty as virtually beyond reproach: "Such was the transparent candor and integrity of his nature that he could not well or strongly argue a side or a cause he thought wrong."

I wonder why more recent examples unfortunately are so hard to generate? If you can think of some famous people who are good examples, please offer it in the comments section below.

Deciding Who You Are: A Conversation Worth Having With Teens

Parallels to the lost and wandering Factionless can be found among teens who feel like they don't fit into one social clique or another.

Similarities to Roth's Factionless can also be found among young adults who have been "dis-enrolled" from college or involuntarily released from a job or the military due to poor performance.

Years ago there was a young man from my high school who was accepted into West Point. Acceptance requires a Congressional recommendation and is quite an accomplishment. However, I wonder whose dream he was truly fulfilling.

Unfortunately, after only several days on campus, the fellow relinquished his scholarship and returned to the small, sleepy town where he had spent all of his life. I would bet he is still there. That was simply the nature of where I grew up; most people there were "lifers."

The drive to belong is a strong one, and the fear of being without a group identity -- even temporarily -- can inspire fear, shame, and doubt. Thus, one of the most powerful message in Roth's Divergent series is this: ultimately, YOU must decide who you are.

Read the book and compare reactions. Use your reading of Divergent as a launching pad to ask your teen about what kind of person they seek to become.

Talk about how membership in groups can fortify you but also how there's tremendous value in belonging to multiple groups, thus making you uniquely you. This is a conversation worth having.

Whom does your teen seek to become? What do you want for them? How can you help them in their journey?

Reader Poll

Which value do YOU advocate above all else?

See results

Dauntless: The Virtue of Courage

Current, real-life examples of those who are Dauntless include Marines, Army Rangers and the Navy SEAL team.
Current, real-life examples of those who are Dauntless include Marines, Army Rangers and the Navy SEAL team. | Source

Use Divergent As A Starting Point

It is too simplistic to dismiss Divergent as just another fun saga, disconnected from the here-and-now. (After all, it features jumping off buildings for fun and one group mind-controlling another!)

However, examples are all around us regarding real people who uphold each of the five virtues. As you talk with your teen, look at your own life.

How do each of you prioritize the values of selflessness, peacemaking, honesty, bravery, or knowledge-seeking? You may be surprised to find that your perspectives differ remarkably.

My teen is very much a peacemaker (Amity), always bringing conflicting parties together, whereas I am your average Ph.D. -- an Erudite. Both of us, however, enjoy strong Dauntless qualities as well -- her more than me. When she was only 11, she went hang gliding with me, for example. It's the Dauntless qualities that can cause us friction but which also connect and bind us. (She was surprised to learn that I had been skydiving.)

See how easy and fun the conversation can be? If your discussion is open, you may learn something new about one another! Compare your perceptions of one another with your self-evaluations.

Amity: The Virtue of Peaceful Accord

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was also known as "Fist Lady of the World" for her work on behalf of human rights
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was also known as "Fist Lady of the World" for her work on behalf of human rights | Source

Build On the Conversation

One engaging way to take your conversation to the next level is to do some on-line personality testing together. Then, discuss your results. An example of a free on-line test which does not require registration is the Jung Typology Test™. It is similar to the widely-used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). (I have no affiliations with either.)

After answering 72 yes/no questions, you get the following:

  • your personality type formula with a detailed description of what it means
  • a description of how strong your preferences are and
  • a list of famous people who share your type.

The test is for ages 14 and over. The reports can be a little challenging to understand in some parts, but overall it's enjoyable and a very helpful conversation resource.

Bill Gates, geeky knowledge seeker.
Bill Gates, geeky knowledge seeker. | Source

Absolutely Worth the Small Price You'll Pay

StrengthsFinder 2.0
StrengthsFinder 2.0

This book provides an access code to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder, an on-line assessment tool. Taking the survey will show you your top five strengths. Use the book as a resource for understanding 34 types of human talents. Develop a common, strengths-based language for understanding your teen and those you interact with regularly.

**NOTE: I strongly recommend either buying this new or (if you buy it used) ensuring that the access code for the survey is UNUSED. You need the survey!**


Strength Finders: A Great Tool for Self-Exploration

Another great resource is the book Strength Finders 2.0 by Tom Rath. Strength Finders 2.0 presents 34 broad themes that characterize human strengths (e.g., Strategic, Maximizer, Achiever).

Based on over 40 years of research, including extensive research by the Gallup organization, the book centers around an on-line survey. Purchasing the book provides you with the access code.

As a result of taking the survey, you can learn what your top five strengths are and ideas for how to use them more effectively.

Positive, open discussions with your teen about popular fiction literature such as Divergent can easily lead to ongoing discussions about what makes each of you tick -- deeply held values and personality styles. The time to connect is now!

Erudite: The Virtue of Knowledge-Seeking

Albert Einstein was the quintessential knowledge-seeker.
Albert Einstein was the quintessential knowledge-seeker. | Source

© 2013 FlourishAnyway


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      You're welcome may 2016 not be dystopian :-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      Robert Sacchi - Thanks for your comment. Happy New year.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      What about BillyGraham for honesty (Candor). One problem with honesty/candor is it tends to make people unpopular. In your poll as of today only 10% of the respondents value honesty most of all. It might be because mind most people are generally honest so honesty is no big deal.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      kschimmel - Thank you! I hope you are also able to take advantage of the free online June Typology Test. Whether teens or adults, we all love learning more about ourselves and discussing it! My teen and I did this and enjoyed connecting, seeing how we were different as well as similar.

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 4 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I am a big fan of the Divergent series. This is a great idea for a book discussion group, Sunday School group, or family discussion. I especially like that you provided real world examples.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Crafty - Thank you. Mother Theresa's quote is one of my favorites about being true to yourself, no matter what the world throw your way. Hope you are feeling well today.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      I was struggling with myself today and re-read this article. It's funny how upon reading something for the first time, you find one meaning from it. Today, I found a second. I love the words you chose to include from Mother Teresa. Those are so true and I try to apply them to my life. Thank you again for this inspiring and meaningful Hub!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Benjamin - Thanks for reading and commenting. It was interesting how other than Abraham Lincoln, it was difficult to generate a world-famous example of an honest individual. I wonder what that says about us all as a human race?

    • profile image

      Benjamin Chege 4 years ago

      Hi FlourishAnyway. Great hub that is well written and presentable. I think honesty for me is the most important trait. Where there is honesty there is no crime, hatred and all the other bad virtues we see in the society.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Crafty. I can imagine your challenge. I am finding with my teen that if I meet her on her level and engage her using topics she cares about, it all sounds so much less preachy and is more two sided.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 4 years ago

      This would have been great to have on hand a few years ago. My husband had teenagers, now adults, when I met him. Talk about walking in to a tall pond without boots!