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What it Means to be Divergent

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

When I looked up the definition of “divergent,” I found these interpretations:

a) having no finite limits (a mathematical expression).

b) tending to be different or develop in different directions.

c) farther apart at their tops than at their bases (of plant organs).

I was doing this, of course, because over the holidays I finally got the chance to watch the first film in the “Divergent” series, and I have been pondering it for some weeks since.

In the film (and the book series by the same name by Veronica Roth), there are five segments, or factions, of society.

These factions are:

  • Abnegation (serving others selflessly)
  • Erudite (thinking, using the intellect)
  • Amity (pursuing peace)
  • Candor (honesty, truthfulness)
  • Dauntless (bravery, pushing limits)

But there is also a sixth faction – the “factionless,” or divergent, group of people.

These folks have strong elements of more than one faction present within them, and as a result, a) tend not to fit in, and b) tend to be hunted and destroyed mercilessly by those who do fit in.

Of course.

I say this because I am divergent. 

Furthermore, I always have been, without choosing to be, wanting to be, or even particularly knowing I am.

My mom and I still talk about the bullying I experienced as a girl, and how senseless it felt – then and now. I dressed oddly (to put it mildly), kept to myself (a natural introvert), and as such was often more in my head than in the world around me.

The other kids – and the teachers – noticed. They resented it. They wanted to capture my attention just to prove they could, and they tried all manner of means to do so, to no avail.

They teased and tormented me about my weight (’nuff said), my math grades (abysmal), my interest in bluegrass music (no, it was not cool 30 years ago), my choice to wear my favorite outfit five days in a row (if I liked it best and it wasn’t dirty, why change?)…..

Inevitably, I went through a period of trying to change, trying to please them, trying to fit in, trying to disappear even – anything to deflect the constant barrage of opinions and feedback I didn’t want, hadn’t asked for, and couldn’t seem to get away from.

But nothing I tried worked.

Finally, I just stopped trying to fit in and gave up. I started learning how to be me and accepting myself as I am. This is when life (and recovery) began to get a little easier.

This is also when I started to realize no one fits in or feels like they belong.

As I started to learn how to make friends and be a friend, I started to see that pretty much everyone feels divergent on the inside.

I realized that, while I might not “click” with everyone I meet, might not “get” what another person is about, that didn’t mean they “fit in” and I didn’t or vice versa. There is actually no such thing as “fitting in.”

In this, getting older has been a true friend and mentor to me.

Each year I am alive I get to meet more people, and in these connections (whether brief or long-term) I once again realize that each of us feels that inner struggle – that inability and need to strike the perfect balance between selflessness and self-focus, honesty and fabrication, pure intellect and personal opinion, courage and cowardice, war and peace.

I know I do. I even feel that friction in each of these areas between me and me.

Not only do I believe humanity itself is inherently divergent – for instance, we are the only beings on this planet with our large prefrontal cortex! – but we are even divergent within ourselves.

We wrestle with our base needs versus our higher calling.

We struggle with the concept of limitation – is it real, and if so, does that even matter?

Most of all, we push back against the whole idea of “fitting in,” as if there could ever be another being who would be so identical to ourselves that we could form a cohesive group….

It will be interesting to see how the movie series unfolds. But I suspect the battle between faction and factionless will continue, as it always seems to do, no matter the setting, the time period, or how cool the outfits or the gadgets are.

This, too, seems to be part of humanity’s inherent nature.

We band together, not out of commonality, but out of fear. What drives our divergence under ground and out of sight is our shared fear of not fitting in, of being seen for the divergent human being that we – each and all – truly are.

Today’s Takeaway: Have you seen “Divergent?” Which character(s) did you most identify with? Have you ever felt bullied for not fitting in? Do you know others who have been bullied for being labeled “different?” What does the word “divergent” mean to you?



What it Means to be Divergent

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2015). What it Means to be Divergent. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Jan 2015
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