I’m making my way through my 2014 reading list, which I probably should update for you soon, and I’ve just started listening to the audiobook version of the YA dystopian mega-hit Divergent. (Yes, I’m waaaay behind the times, I know).
For those who haven’t read it yet, Divergent is based on a future in which society has been broken into factions based on five basic personality traits: amity (friendship), dauntlessness (courage), erudition (knowledge), candor (honesty) and abnegation (selflessness). I won’t divulge too much about the consequences of this division or its implications for the story’s heroine, but the premise of the book has me wondering if I had to squeeze my identity into a single-trait box, what would it be?
Well, first of all, it could never be one trait. One of my favorite concepts from my psychology days is the Jungian concept of shadows. Carl Jung described the shadow as the “dark side” of ourselves, the parts of ourselves that are beyond our awareness or unconscious. Specifically, he talked about the shadow side of traits — for every trait we see in ourselves, there is a shadow side of which we may not be aware. I like to oversimplify this and just say that every characteristic has two sides, like a coin. One is potentially positive and the other negative, or at least they might produce different results for us. Caution is seen as a positive trait, but its shadow side is fearfulness or anxiety. Bravery is a good thing, recklessness may not be beneficial.
Because of the shadow side, I tend to think that our traits group themselves in balancing pairs. So if each coin has two sides, this would be two coins balancing one another out. When I try to think of characteristics that define who I am, the first one that comes to mind is Independence. I absolutely do not like to be told what to do. Try it, I dare ya! Personal freedom is high on my values list because I think in general we should have as little telling each other what to do as possible. The shadow side of Independence is Defiance, for which any one of my high school teachers can provide examples. Bless them. (It might help them to know I’m getting a big taste of the shadow side of this trait from Skywalker, who is exactly like me in this respect. Sigh.)
But just when I think that Independence is my defining trait, I stop to think about how little I enjoy being alone, and how much I value relationships with others. If you only care about doing your own thing, you’re not going to be super social; but I am. I think this is because my balancing trait is Empathy. I feel the pain of others incredibly deeply. (Hubs would say here that it’s sometimes too deeply for my own good). Some acquaintances of ours had a major family crisis recently, and I tossed and turned all night worrying about them, despite the fact that there was nothing at all I could do to help. Empathy drew me to counseling as a profession, and empathy is one reason I had to take a step back. There are definitely pros and cons to being able to walk in others’ shoes, to imagine someone else’s world as though it were your own.
For me Independence and Empathy balance one another, keeping me connected to those around me without completely losing my sense of self. Sometimes they work well together, other times the results are… well, less than perfect. As for which one I would select at a Choosing Ceremony to be my defining community forever? Hmm… I would have to think about that for a while. Would I go with the Empaths, who would focus on feeling the pain of others, or the Independents, who would focus on freedom and differences? I think maybe in the end I’d be selfish (or idealistic) and pick independence.
What about you? If you had to pick one or two characteristics that define you, what would they be? Could you choose one to be your community forever?
I’m M.J. (Manda) Pullen, an author, mom and independent empath in the Atlanta, Georgia area. I blog about writing, publishing, motherhood, health, psychology and whatever else strikes me in the moment.
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My current roster of books includes The Marriage Pact series, a trilogy of Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction novels. You can find them for all eBook formats and in paperback here.
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