Seven things I learned from The Giver, by Lois Lowry

IMG_64891. Choice creates risk.
With choice come wrong choices, and wrong choices bring harm. Given the harm, it’s tempting to eliminate choice. But choice brings joy and maturity. Better to equip the chooser to choose than to remove the choice.

2. Pain is something we avoid.
Superficial avoidance is easy — simply find something to take your mind off the pain. But pain can last long and run deep. The only way to eliminate that kind of pain is to eliminate feelings. The trouble is, without feelings, life’s color drains away. That’s a bleak way to live.

3. Memories can be painful.
Since we don’t like pain, we choose not to remember. But many things ought never to be forgotten.

4. Choice, pain, and memories bring wisdom.
We learn from the choices we make. From trial and error, risk and reward. And we grow wise by remembering what happened. Or by learning what happened to others. Parents, teachers, mentors, books — these are the relationships and resources that turn choice, pain, and mindfulness into wisdom. The key is not to avoid pain, memories, or choice. It’s to cultivate loving relationships.

5. Enforced uniformity can be well-meaning.
According to a Wall Street Journal interview with Lois Lowry (6/20/2014), the story emerged from watching her aging father forget painful memories. By forgetting, he was spared their sorrow. What if our minds could be manipulated so we would all forget our painful memories? she wondered. Would that be nice? Thankfully, she thought it through, and now we know the answer.

6. Story reveals reality.
It’s in our nature to divert our eyes. To avoid the burden of grim realities. But when someone kills a healthy baby right in front of you, there’s nowhere else to look. Story makes such things possible. It turns knowledge into vivid experience. The Giver is read by schoolchildren around the world. Perhaps they will retain the moral clarity awakened by Chapter 19 when faced with their own life choices. It’s chilling, and not easily forgotten. Nor should it be.

7. Rudeness can be a virtue.
Not the rudeness of dishonor or contempt, but of naming the truth in a culture of lies. It is rude to ask or observe uncomfortable things. But not always wrong. It may be like turning on the light.

Parting Thought: It was wise to write this as a children’s book. Simply told, the story is believable. It’s also powerful, nuanced, and disturbing. Curiously, like other dystopian classics (eg., 1984, Fahrenheit 451), it features invasive technology. The speaker on the wall, always listening. Just like many of us now have in our homes.