“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ~John 15:13 (KJV)
For some reason (other than the usual issues that cause procrastination) I’ve had a difficult time getting back to this “series”. Note to self: At least have a working draft of the entire series before posting the first blog to introduce it. I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve wrestled with what to say, and how to say it. But, until now, I haven’t just made myself sit down and type it out. To be honest (like Candor) I would probably scrap the idea for this post if I hadn’t announced a series, because it is not very timely anymore. I did that on purpose, you know. It’s how I push myself to do what I truly WANT to do, but have a tendency to put off because it won’t be perfect enough. If I tell you I’ll do something, then my integrity is on the line.
So here it is…the next installment.
We begin our tour of the Divergent social landscape with the Abnegation faction. We start here, because Veronica Roth began her trilogy here. Our protagonist, Beatrice Prior, grew up in Abnegation. And our introduction to the social structure that drives the story, begins with this, the selfless-server faction. And, beside that, Abnegation is the group with whom I most identify.
Abnegation, as I described in my introduction for this series, “Thoughts on Divergence” part 1, is the faction that countered the selfishness of the world by denying themselves all but the basic necessities in life. They dressed simply, and modestly. Beatrice was only allowed to view herself in a mirror once every 3 months when she got her hair cut – and then, only in short glances. They were not to spend time thinking of themselves. They had no need for large homes, or closets, or dressers to keep their stuff. They didn’t accumulate things. The simplicity in their lives and dress might be analogous to the Amish or Mennonite communities in the American North-east. They were often mockingly referred to as “stiffs”.
Abnegation had the charge of governing the land, as they had no personal or political aspirations, but simply a desire to serve. Yes, there really are people like this. Although no one is completely immune to the draw of power or money, some are pretty close. Think of Mother Theresa. It’s just that, in our world, these people seldom get elected to anything, as they have a disdain for the political machine. Real-life Abnegation is more likely to work quietly (even secretly) behind the scenes to be agents of change.
Children born into Abnegation are raised in what might look like poverty to those on the outside looking in, but would likely be richer in relationships, and have a better understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. But all Abnegation children have the opportunity (and responsibility) to choose to remain Abnegation, or choose another faction, at the tender age of 16. They may choose to remain Abnegation for fear of the unknown, discomfort with change, loyalty to family, or because they believe it to be the best choice for life. Those that choose another faction after having grown up Abnegation, may do so because they feel that another faction may hold better promise for righting the world’s wrongs, or they could be disillusioned with their parent’s faction. It may be an act of outright defiance, or just a search for belonging and meaning.
It might be a stretch to say that I grew up Abnegation, but I can identify with it fairly easily. We were not a poor family, but we were not a family of means either. We didn’t celebrate much. We ate out very seldom. I remember 2 family vacations my entire childhood. Both were short, and cheap. Our get-aways consisted of a trip to see grandparents for Christmas, or occasionally in the summer.
But most true to Abnegation was that my parents were (and are) servers. They modeled service to me with neighbors and members of our local church. Even now, my 77 year old father will drive his little John Deere riding mower down the road to cut someone else’s lawn when they are not able. And he does it at his own cost. He pays attention to people, and perceives when they have a need. And he is a driving force to the benevolence of his church congregation.
As I learned of, and fell in love with, the example and teachings of Jesus, as a young person, I committed myself to follow his example in my own life. What I found was that Jesus didn’t only “lay down his life” in his death, but in life also. To lay down our lives is to put the needs of others ahead of our own. It’s to defer, to give up personal rights at times, to live sacrificially that we might benefit others rather than ourselves. It is to give ourselves in service to others. You might say that the goal is to take care of the needs of others and trust that our own needs will be met. Life is lived in pursuit of equity, not in competition.
One of Beatrice’s issues is also one of my own. She had a love for the Abnegation way of life, but struggled with her own selfish desires. She wanted. She had a need to experience more in life. She wanted to be a little more dauntless and carefree.
One of the battles I’ve had to deal with in mid-life, is the feeling that I gave up too much. I had a long list of “I have never…”s that I may have even been proud of. And, as I stood at the middle of my life looking back, I felt cheated, to be honest. I felt like I prioritized others’ needs so much that I found myself depleted, and wanting more. I focused on the cat’s comfort, when my legs were going to sleep. (see Why Disturb the Cat?)
I’ve come to the realization, though, that selflessness and selfishness are not polar opposites. You don’t have to be one or the other. Actually, though you may be able to be completely selfish, it is not possible to be completely selfless. At least I don’t think so. We all have desires, whether or not we act upon them. And it is possible to have selfish desires that you choose not to act on, out of deference for others. One of the reasons I’ve been pushing myself to get this entry written and published today, is that today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. It is a day that we celebrate the mothers who selflessly give up their own time, resources, and energy to care for their children. They often do without new clothes, so their quickly growing children stay clothed. They give up their rest to keep house. They sacrifice time with friends to wipe noses, read nursery rhymes, and rock their children. They invest themselves in their kids.
It’s not that they have no wants. It’s not that they don’t want to have nice things, go out, have fun, and be pampered. They keep wanting those things and more. That is, in a sense, selfishness. However, their love for their children cause them to repress their “selfish” desires for themselves, and focus on serving their children. Is that fair to say? I’m not a mother, and feel a slight trepidation to assign these feelings to such saints. However, I know these things are true of me. I wish I weren’t so selfish, that I had no wants but to serve others, but I am, and I do. The best I can do at times is to repress those desires, to ignore them if possible, and to defer my wants for someone else’s.
Like Beatrice, I love Abnegation, but I have some Dauntless longings.