Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Hunger Games, Once Again

The distinguished speaker chosen to honor the graduating high school class was approaching his peroration.

"We're proud of you", he said, "and you should be proud of yourselves.  You're getting ready for a global marketplace.  In this marketplace, you never will know where the competition will come from.  Your rival may be in Adelaide, in Beijing, in Seoul, in Jerusalem, in London... but because of your hard work and studies, you will be prepared to compete and to win!"

 Alright. I agree that competition can be a powerful creative force.  Just like fire.  But, while fire in the fireplace is good, fire throughout the house is not.  

In order that competition can do its creative work, it needs a fireplace: boundaries, in space and time, and relationally, to those areas that it governs.  Athletes know this (or should): after the game is over, win or lose, competition gives way to brotherhood, to relationship.

In our moral ecology, though, the sense that there are boundaries to competition, places where it does not belong, has been weakened.  It is all too easy for graduation speakers to suggest - and, what is worse, for graduates to believe - that, as the Social Darwinists say, competition is the fundamental rule for all of life.

In the world of the "Hunger Games", boys and girls - high school kids, really -  suddenly graduate into an arena where competition really does have no limits (with Effie Trinket playing the role of graduation speaker). Through the flat voice of Katniss Everdeen, the book lays bare what that arena really means; and it flays the evasions and doublethink of those who, themselves securely established, avert their sentimental eyes from the cost as they urge those graduates forward to the competition.

There has to be more for us to say to the next generation than, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

(Link to earlier post on The Hunger Games). 

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