Every now and then I like to re-read certain books. I get a hankering to re-enter that world and enjoy that particular story. The books I get the craving for would all come in my top books ever, so to my mind, they are also incredibly well written with well developed characters that one can learn from.
Ender’s Game is one such novel, and while on the surface it may not appear that this sci-fi novel about intergalactic war and the brutality of children is something you can learn to be a better person from, I think there are lessons to be had.
Ender is the third child, specifically allowed by government mandate to exist because of the promise of his two elder siblings. However, Peter is too violent, too manipulative and kind of evil, so he didn’t get into Battle School. Valentine, the middle child, is at the other end of the spectrum, she is too kind and sensitive to be able to cope with the rigors Battle School would demand. Ender is a balance of both of those personalities. He can see where his brother Peter goes too far, and has been a victim of his bullying, when Ender’s own actions stray too far into the ‘Peter-zone’ he is filled with remorse. Remorse of course, is something that he has learned from Valentine. Ender has learned that emotions can be useful, and are indeed essential in being a good person.
By balancing Peter’s determination to get things done and Valentines sensitivity to the human condition, Ender achieves a balance that makes him both likable and an efficient leader.
Watch and Learn
One of the reasons Ender is so awesome at pretty much everything he does is that he gives himself time to learn before he acts. This is most obviously shown when he watches the older boys play a video game for an hour, works out the tricks, works out how different strategies are used and then beats the best older boy 2 out of 3.
Ender also does this with difficult people, he watches how they behave with their friends and their enemies until he knows how they tick, then he can use whatever strategy will work to get them on his side.
Search for love
This one is a little more subtle, but its there. Ender commands others so easily because they find it so easy to love him. He treats people with respect, kindness and patience. Although the teachers are specifically ensuring that he will be isolated from his peers Ender makes friends. His first friend at Battle School, Alai started out as an enemy. Alai recognises Ender’s genius and the way he treats people with respect and opens the doors to friendship with him.
When Alai reveals that he is religious (which isn’t allowed) by whispering the word Salaam Ender doesn’t understand the word, but he understands the warmth of the gesture and keeps the moment secret to protect Alai.
At the heart of Ender’s despair there is always his love for his sister Valentine, which keeps him going. To say too much more about that would be spoiler central, but Ender knows that he is not his brother because of the strength of his love for his sister. Searching out and holding onto love like that makes Ender a great person.
Tied into all of the above, and perhaps the most important thing is Empathy. The reason why the adults hide the things they hide from Ender is that they know he has too much empathy to really destroy the enemy. He is able to think like his enemies, put himself into their frame of mind and act accordingly. As such, he is able to understand his enemies in ways that no one else can, and thus he can feel remorse and regret when his actions have been destructive.
Now, none of us are currently being pitted in simulated war games against a race of aliens (as far as I know, anyway), but empathy is well worth cultivating. If you can understand someone’s actions then you can relate to them and if you can relate to someone then you are closer to becoming friends and everyone needs friends.