The Giver by Lois Lowry
Sit Down and Read
One Line Summary
Break patterns of Social Conditioning
*Warning, potential spoilers incoming*
I want to start this review by giving a bit of a story about why I decided to feature The Giver on my blog.
I read The Giver years ago while I was still in high school and loved it, even though most of the lessons went over my teenage head. It was one of the few books that actually was useful. Shout out Mr. O’Brian.
However, I just never considered it for this blog. It wasn’t really a self-development book.
That changed last night.
What happened was my roommate had a girl over last night and asked if I could take off for a bit to give them some privacy. Sure, no big deal. Common roommate/dude curtsey. So I went down to the apartment common room and just tried to go to sleep on one of the couches.
Sleep didn’t come. Maybe it was the foreign environment, or maybe it was the fact that also in the common room were a woman and man, reading The Giver out loud.
The reason for the out loud reading was that this woman was giving the man English speaking lessons. She would read a passage, summarize it and then the man would ask clarification questions.
At first, this was not a pleasant experience. I just wanted to sleep. But as I was forced to listen to their lesson against my will, I started to get into.
The more she read, the more I remembered what an amazing book The Giver was. It’s philosophical, gripping and gives you a sense of the raw struggle of humanity.
That’s when I realized it was obvious: I had to review The Giver on my blog.
What is The Giver about?
This is a fictional story about a boy named Jonas living in a dystopian, futuristic society. Of course, like most dystopian societies, the citizens are generally not aware of just how much of life they are missing out on.
In the book, essentially all choices, all emotions and even all colors have been wiped away from people’s minds by the ruling authority. This leads to an experience called Sameness, as more or less everyone’s experience is totally neutral and the same. The rationalization for this is that it’s a way to eliminate suffering for people. When everything is the same, there is no pain.
However, there is preordained one man in this society who remembers life the way it was before Sameness. That man is called The Giver, and it’s his job to give his memories to Jonas, who is destined to be the new Giver.
Where the story goes from there I’ll try not to spoil because it’s an amazing read.
Why It’s Awesome
Okay, so it’s a cool story. But what does this have to do with personal development? How is THIS story related to, say, someone making cash? The answer isn’t immediately available on the surface.
But it is.
Here are 3 major personal development lessons you’ll get from the Giver:
- Pain is not the enemy
- The incredible influence of culture
- The struggle of higher level awareness
These are all incredibly important, so let me dive into each individually.
- Pain is Not the Enemy
The rationalization of Sameness is to eliminate pain from people’s lives. By putting them in this extreme box and making sure any discomfort is taken care of, yes, pain is eliminated. But as Jonas realizes, this comes at an extreme cost.
What is the cost? The cost is the full range of your experience.
We live in a dualistic universe. Where there is sadness, there is happiness. Where there is love, there is fear. Where there is pain, there is joy.
You can’t know one without the other. By taking away pain, automatically these higher level experiences like love were also removed. Life is incredibly one-dimensional.
In general, most people’s strategy actually looks much like an attempt at achieving Sameness. They want to minimize pain and maximize what feels good. This is the only thing most people know, and I honestly believe that’s why Lowry made his dystopian society like this. He recognized the failure of this strategy.
People who are highly development understand: pain is not the enemy.
What’s wrong with this min/max strategy? It’s that you’re still attached to not suffering. It’s like how the Buddha called out the ascetics because their desire was to be desireless. They still hadn’t transcended the whole system, which is what highly development people have done.
Highly developed people are in what’s called non-resistance. They don’t run away from any aspect of experience. When they feel good, they feel it fully. And when they feel bad, they let that in and feel that fully as well. There’s no repression going on.
Counter-intuitively, this actually makes unnecessary suffering essentially a non-issue because these people don’t add another layer of resistance to the pain they’re already feeling. I’ve talked about this quite a bit in other reviews, so I’ll move on now.
Pain is also essential to growth.
Now, I realize that’s a controversial statement. Because certainly there are people who are in pain who are not growing. And it’s hard to justify putting people in real harm just for the sake of growing.
But, if you look back at almost all the most important times in your life when you became something more, I’d bet pain was involved on some level.
I’ve talked about this as well in my reviews of Iron John and Anti-fragile. Essentially, both these books talk about the importance of wounds when it comes to progression. And it’s equally tough to argue against them as well.
This is why I’m a fan of things like Strong Determination Sitting, working out, cold showers and cold-approach. These are all ways of purposely placing PAIN on yourself in order to grow, but in a way where real harm is actually unlikely. So it’s still safe, despite what your brain might be screaming.
In my experience, when you embrace the necessary experience of pain, a couple things happen.
One is gratitude. No one has more gratitude than the person who had to struggle and bleed for whatever the end result was. You can see this aspect in almost every successful person who has been through the Grind.
Another is perspective. Little things don’t bother you as much just because you’ve dealt with worse shit.
There’s a video of George Bush dancing at the funeral of an armed soldier. He’s the only one, and it’s obvious how horrified people are that he is dancing at such a morbid affair.
And that’s certainly true. He’s obviously violating social norms for respect for the dead. And maybe he’s just an idiot. So don’t take this as me condoning his actions.
Rather, let me use this just as an example to show a principle. Would it be fair to say that George Bush has DEALT WITH SOME STRESS? I mean say what you want about his leadership, but the man was still President of the USA during a very emotional time in our country’s history.
Obviously I can’t even imagine what that experience is like. But what I do know is that when faced with high levels of stress, you either learn to LET IT GO and get into non-resistance, or it will bring you down with it.
“Not taking things too seriously” is actually a skill you need to develop to get to a high level in life. Because when shit goes down, if you can’t chill out and execute effectively, you’ll have problems.
Okay, that was a long winded explanation. Let’s move onto the next lesson.
2) The Incredible Influence of Culture
The society presented in The Giver is possible for really one reason: the mass hypnosis of culture.
When I was growing up and heard people talking about things like this, I tended to just assume they were paranoid. I was basically just like a sponge soaking up other people’s opinions. So life seemed very straight-forward and it generally seemed like people knew what they were talking about.
But as I’ve gotten older and have peaked behind the curtain a bit, I’m starting to see the massive effects culture has on our lives. It is INTENSE. The things people are able to rationalize out of fear, self-agenda and ignorance are wild.
Consider the extraordinary range of beliefs between different cultures. I live in Miami, if I drive just a couple of hours to certain parts of Georgia I might as well be in a different world.
That’s why I consider social conditioning perhaps the most important topic in personal development and talk about it in almost every review. You HAVE to be aware of how your culture and beliefs are affecting and constantly searching for blind-spots if you want to grow and execute.
In The Giver, the people teaching misinformation in the education system aren’t “bad”. They are, as the Giver explains, just ignorant. They don’t know what they don’t know. They’re repeating what they were taught by those who also didn’t know.
And that’s the trap in personal development.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
3) The Struggle of Higher Level Awareness
As you go further in personal development, one thing becomes clear: not everyone is moving up with you.
In fact, one of the most painful things you might go through in your journey is realizing that you can no longer afford to keep certain people in your life. It doesn’t mean you need to be an asshole about it, but it’s a reality.
You’ll probably also start to see all the ways people around you are failing to live the life they want. Their problems and solutions are crystal clear to you, yet they don’t know what they don’t know.
It doesn’t make you better than them or that you know everything. That’s ego delusion.
It just means you have an understanding in certain areas they don’t.
This is what Jonas experiences. As he learns from the Giver what life is like outside of Sameness, he can see all the problems with the current system. He has wisdom and awareness no one else has.
His response is compassion. That’s about all you can feel in the face of ignorance. He wants to help people realize what’s going on, as most people would.
However, it’s clear that Jonas’s help is not wanted by many people. The Giver explains that they fear change, and so no change is possible.
This is a powerfully relatable part of the story. How many times have we failed to change because of fear? And how many times have we watched someone throw away change out of fear?
As you move along in personal development, you will experience this fear from both ends. It may shock you how strong it is.
However, in the end Jonas chooses to help people anyway learn the truth, even at personal expense. And while I don’t believe you need to become a martyr, helping even in the face of absurdity really becomes the only solution to this problem.
Do it not because you need to save the world. The world doesn’t need saving. Do it for the state of mind that comes from genuine contribution of what you care about.
So those are the main lessons you’ll get out of reading this book. Let’s move on to the critique.
Why Does It Suck
Admittedly this is maybe not the most practical book. Fictional books definitely have their place in learning and growing, but they’re also usually limited.
The Giver is no different. It makes some amazing points…if you have the wisdom to see them. Much like The Author though, there is a time when direct communication is far more effective.
Essentially, what I just laid out is far clearer cut than what you’ll get from reading the book. You just have a much more practical perspective to actually execute on.
The Wrap Up
The Giver is an incredible book that can hit you on an emotional level the way a non-fictional book usually won’t. It has some incredible lessons that are likely to stick because of their mental anchor to the story.
I’d recommend this to anyone getting into personal development in order to start to open their eyes about some of the realities surrounding them involving social conditioning. It’s a force you have to learn to understand.