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The Hunger Games’ Five Lessons in Human Goodness

In the world of Panem, Suzanne Collins shows us some of the worst traits and failings of society and certainly for many characters it is difficult to have faith in humanity at all in such a bleak and brutal world. Nation of Change, the site that focuses on societal problems through independent journalism, presents 5 ways in which Collins’s stories are really a comment on the successes of humanity and not its failings: “What raises The Hunger Games above similar stories, like the cynical Japanese film Battle Royale, is that it is mainly preoccupied with how human goodness can flourish even in the most dehumanizing circumstances.”

1. Killing is against human nature.

Katniss, a skilled hunter and the hero of The Hunger Games, is indeed horrified by the prospect of dying—but her worst fears revolve around needing to kill other people. “You know how to kill,” says her friend Gale in the book. “Not people,” she replies, filled with horror at the idea. When she actually does kill a girl named Glimmer, she’s wracked with guilt and throws herself over the body “as if to protect it.”

Research says that Katniss is the rule, not the exception. “The study of killing by military scientists, historians, and psychologists gives us good reason to feel optimistic about human nature, for it reveals that almost all of us are overwhelmingly reluctant to kill a member of our own species, under just about any circumstance,” writes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his Greater Good essay, “Hope on the Battlefield.”

2. Wealth makes us less compassionate.

The citizens of the Capitol brutally exploit the 12 districts of the country of Panem, giving themselves a very high standard of living while deliberately keeping the rest in a state of abject poverty. The movie and the book take pains to reveal how much this limits their ability to empathize with the less fortunate…

This doesn’t mean affluence makes you evil. According to the author of a related study, Greater Good Science Center Hornaday Graduate Fellow Jennifer Stellar, “It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted. They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.”

3. People are motivated to help others by empathy, not reason or numbers.

“If you really want to stay alive, you get people to like you,” says their drunken, traumatized mentor, Haymitch

Haymitch’s advice is supported by new research that suggests if you want to encourage people to take humanitarian action, logic and big numbers don’t help—as every ad copywriter knows, people are most moved to help individuals with compelling personal stories.

When a team of psychologists ran a study of two fundraising appeals—one emphasizing a girl’s story, the other the number of people affected by the problem—they found “that people have more sympathy for identifiable victims because they invoke a powerful, heartfelt emotional response, whereas impersonal numbers trigger the mind’s calculator,” as former GGSC fellow Naazneen Barma writes. “In a fascinating cognitive twist, this appeal to reason actually stunts our altruistic impulses.”

4. Power flows from social and emotional intelligence, not strength and viciousness.

Peeta proves particularly adept at manipulating the emotions of the “Hunger Games” audience. He seldom actually lies to anyone, but he does artfully reveal and conceal his emotions to maximize their impact and win support for their survival (a trait illustrated in the clip above, when he uses his crush on Katniss as the raw material for a compelling, sympathetic story). In contrast, the characters who rely on brute force and violent prowess find themselves isolated and defeated in the end. It’s the most compassionate characters who ultimately triumph.

This is exactly what research in social and emotional intelligence predicts will happen. “A new science of power has revealed that power is wielded most effectively when it’s used responsibly by people who are attuned to, and engaged with, the needs and interests of others,” writes GGSC Faculty Director Dacher Keltner in his essay “The Power Paradox.” “Years of research suggests that empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror.”

5. Social connection trumps power and independence.

Katniss would very much like to be totally self-reliant. But she simply isn’t, and from a certain perspective, The Hunger Games is the story of how she comes to realize the importance of social connection and her interdependence with other people.

In the book, when one character tells her she’s a survivor, her reply is telling: “But only because someone helped me.” Katniss is tough and resourceful, but, in the end, it’s her ability to connect with others that saves her.

The article goes into much more depth with references from many sociological essays and psychological papers so I recommend you head on over to Nation of Change for a read.

About Ciara McIntyre Archive

  • http://mockingjay45.thenewhive.com/to-bellabells321?tag=Recent mockingjay fan

    I agree with everything in the article
    p.s. YAY 1st COMMENT!

  • Peeta Luver 10

    I love Peeta! 2nd comment

  • brittnay

    lol i so agrreeeee with the article

  • Destined

    Brilliant points, I agree!

  • http://www.youtube.com/swordebrithil12 Dravel Eragonsson

    Somebody give Suzanne.. I don’t even know, the best literature prize mankind has to offer xD

  • Ashlyn

    1. Serial Killers don’t seem bothered by it. *cough* I’m just saying lol.
    2. Sorry, I think that’s a load of bull.
    The rest, I tend to agree with.

  • http://mockingjay.net Ciara

    @Dravel Eragonsson Nobel Prize for Literature maybe?

  • http://mockingjay.net Ciara

    @Ashlyn The 2nd one most definitely has merit. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable reading about the Capitol. How many of us buy clothes or food that aren’t Fair Trade? Things we can never be 100% sure came to developing countries ethically. The districts and the Capitol aren’t so far from our world today, people can get very complacent and turn a blind eye because it’s a much easier path

  • Becca

    Great article but the part about Katniss throwing herself over Glimmer “as if to protect it” is taken completely out of context. She wasn’t “wracked with guilt” at this point.She did it because she was afraid the hovercraft was going to take Glimmer away before she could pry the bow from her hands.

  • Ashlyn

    @Ciara I understand your point. I guess what I meant is that I don’t think wealth is the problem; it’s the fact that people sometimes, like you said, turn a blind eye. I don’t think it has much to do with being wealthy; it has to do with us ignoring our call to humanity. We need to focus less on “Why don’t the rich people do something?!” and more on: we all need to do something because it’s the morally right thing to do.

  • abba

    Ha! Love it!!!!! Has anyone heard that Suzanne is writing another hunger games? Except it is the year that Haymitch won! There are rumors all around about this! Except the other perspective jhave heard is Cato. Or rue or prim. Or peeta. I would love to hear it from peeta or gale…… WOULD LOVE PEETA!

  • abba

    FOR PEETA SAKE haha Pete’s sake I JUST WANTED TO SAY THAT. FOR PEETAS SAKE!!!! AND YES!!!! 12 th comment!!!!!

  • SPM

    Re #2 – did I read the same book they did? I’m pretty sure the government was the oppressive entity, not the citizens. Wealth might have made the Capitol’s residents less compassionate, but real life torches that straw man pretty quickly. It ain’t the middle class making the hefty charitable donations, after all…

    And it’s shockingly ignorant to assume a wealthy person has faced fewer obstacles in life. Very often they’ve faced more hardships to get where they are.

  • Zinnia

    abba- Where did you find this information!?

  • Emily414

    @Becca yeah I agree with you concerning the whole Glimmer thing. I thought a better reference would be Katniss’s guilt when she kills Marvel- much more indictative of her aversion to killing.

  • Annie

    @abba I hope it’s true!!! 🙂

  • AnvilGate

    #2 is WRONG and paints a horrible generalization. I’ve seen wealthy people go all out to try to give something back to society. They also have their own stories to tell and some of them have been through a lot. Most of us instantly assume that wealthy people are those born with a silver spoon in their mouth but there are some who really worked hard to get where they are without having to let other people suffer. I’ve also seen poor people display an alarming act of apathy towards the poor as well. Have any of you been to a third world country? You’ll realize that poverty can cause so much apathy because it becomes an every man for himself scenario. So you can’t really single out wealth as a factor that promotes apathy on its own.

    #5 doesn’t seem to be a trait of Katniss. Katniss is abrasive, in fact the only reason why she ended up with social connections was through Peeta and Haymitch. Proof of this was Haymitch reminding Katniss of who the real enemy is in the Quarter Quell when she was ready to slaughter everyone to get Peeta out. The only real social connection Katniss established willingly was with Rue.

  • Please96

    Yay 18th Comment! Just kidding. It says in the article the Battle Royale film it’s a book too! It was a book first and it is actually a pretty good book. Anyway I think these are very true Hunger Games is full of lessons. SO is Harry Potter even though they are Wizards there is a distinct difference between good and evil and it shows that love overcomes evil.

  • rebecca34

    I’m not sure the author of the article read the same books I did.

    1. Tell that to the Stalins, Hitlers, and Pol Pots of the world.

    2. And utter destitution make you more likely to give your first meal in two days away? And what does economics status have to do with personal moral values. Are you beings without free will?

    3. Seriously?? Read a little ancient Roman, Chinese, medieval European history……

    4. I guess that is why Sweden and the Bahamas dominate the world stage…..oh wait that’s the US and China and Russia.

    5. I actually agree with this. There is power in numbers.

  • Please96

    @rebecca34 the author of the article probably didn’t even read the article. He probably just watched the movie. He didn’t use Haymitches quote from the book he used it from the movie.

  • Please96

    *I meant read the book

  • sugar cubes+fish nets

    @ abba- did u say that she’s wrighting another book???!!!!! please tell my you’re not kidding! i would love if she wrote another book! Really? r u serious! please tell me your not kidding! please tell me you’re not kidding1 please tell me it’s true! I hope it is! i think she should!

  • sugar cubes+fish nets

    I DO NOT AGREE WITH #2!!! rich people are not evil! i thinknthe dude who wrote the srticle was either really dumb and missinterpreted(? have no idea how to speel that!sorry!) the books or just watched the movie1 i mean seriously……!

  • sugar cubes+fish nets

    Also, america was built on the idea that people could come here and have freedom to work very hard and make money.rich people are not evil. i really don’t agree with this article….

  • Briar

    our school apparently needs this because as of today, this is the 2nd year in a row where an eighth grader committed suicide… R.I.P. Kaine Dowdel and Greg Olson

  • radiantasthesun

    Owning Twilight 😛

  • Katherine

    @Briar thats really sad. I guess they didn’t know they were loved.

  • abba

    @Annie I knowwwwwww!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  • abba

    And people!!!!! I heard the news from Suzanne Collins herself in an interview on I think it was NBC. She said she was writing another book. She didn’t release much information, but she said it was related to Haymitch. If ya just pit the pieces together……… you can guess that it is about Haymitch winning the games. I cant wait! And…. I think it was NBC. I think…… so for you guys who wanted to know where that came from, that is how I heard of it. And it is NOT A JOKE!

  • abba

    Heeeeey! Annnnnnnniiiiiie! Buddy! Sorry. I felt straight away friendship. Annie!

  • http://mockingjay.net mary

    I LOVE Peeta!He is SO hot!

  • abba

    I knooow!

  • Annie

    It’s okay. And I love peeta 🙂

  • Mo/Katniss Everdeen/Katniss Mellark

    Wow!!!!!

  • satsuma

    I think the article makes good points, though I agree with others that it does generalize a bit too much

    Re #1. There ARE some humans who like killing, even if most don’t. And the same military people who acknowledge it also know how to train soldiers to overcome it. A more nuanced statement would be that the act of killing affects and changes people.

    Re #2. If you look at the original website, the Nation of Change, it seems that they’re buying into the “1% vs 99%” ideology a little, and assuming that the wealthy are all born wealthy and never had to suffer. And while SOME wealthy people don’t have compassion, some do. Also, in the actual story, while Peeta was far from wealthy, he was much better off than Katniss, actually in a position to help *her* when she was starving. If point #2 was universal, then Peeta being more compassionate than Katniss despite
    being in a higher tax bracker wouldn’t make sense.

    Re point #3. I think this is true for some people, not all, it really depends on the personality type.

    Also, it seems that this article is based mostly on the first book. For example, #4. Sure, Peeta seems to score victories with his emotional intelligence in HG and CF but in MJ he’s pretty much squashed like a bug by the strong, vicious ones. Complete with the “boot in a human face” reference to 1984. And Re #5, Katniss does seem to become more socially connected as she goes through HG and CF, but by the end of MJ she seems to have regressed. Even in the Epilogue, it seems the only people she feels any connection to are Peeta and her own kids, and even that has been called into question by some.

    But even #2 seems

  • satsuma

    Sorry for the major typos above. I meant “higher tax bracket”, not “bracker”. And ignore the last sentence fragment, that was an editing error.

  • http://www.twitter.com/KingAlanI Alan

    Don’t celebrate that weak (stuff).

  • Ivana

    @Satsuma: I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, since the article was posted so long time ago. But regarding your comments:

    1. I think the idea is that the majority of people don’t like to kill other humans, not all of them. (However, this is a glass half full statement. A glass half empty would be that the majority of people would probably kill innocents if that’s the only way for them to survive, though there are exceptions. Self-sacrifice is not as common and I’d guess that most people would be more like Enobaria than like Peeta or Katniss.)

    2. I don’t buy #2 either, but I think it would be closer to the truth to say that wealthy are more isolated from the suffering of the poor and needy and less likely to be aware of it. However, I don’t think your example is very good, since I happen to think that Katniss is very compassionate, even if she doesn’t see herself that way. See her reactions to Rue, Mags, her prep team in Mockingjay, the people from D2 dying in the attack at the Nut, her guilt over having killed people and the deaths of the people she feels responsible for, etc. Someone said upthread that she was ready to kill everyone at the Quarter Quell to save Peeta. Wasn’t Peeta ready to do the same to save Katniss? And all his actions in first book are about saving Katniss, the girl he’d had a crush on for a long time, not saving everyone. Now, if you compared Gale and Peeta, your case would be stronger.

    4. But Peeta recovers from hijacking – because there were people who wanted to help him because they loved or liked him or found him important because of who he was and his connections to others, or out of gratitude for his good deeds (Jackson: “You saved a lot of people in 13”.) So Mockingjay again proves their point.
    Re: Katniss – “Even in the Epilogue, it seems the only people she feels any connection to are Peeta and her own kids, and even that has been called into question by some.” As for “called into question”, the fact that some people have problems with reading comprehension says nothing about what the book is about. And I don’t see any evidence that Katniss isn’t a well liked and integrated member of the community in 12, just because her family is the most important to her and because she’s not a public figure anymore. She did enough for the people of Panem to get the luxury of life in peace.

    3