What America Could Learn from “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

All images are from "How to Train Your Dragon 2" by Dreamworks.
All images are from “How to Train Your Dragon 2” by Dreamworks.

First of all, it can learn that this is how you make a good sequel: take everything that worked in the original and add another teaspoon of awesome. That’s it. However, there’s another pretty strong, slightly indirect message that the movie gave which our country (as well as businesses, churches, etc.) can take away (mild spoilers ahead).

The main character, Hiccup, has learned to befriend dragons by learning about them and catering to them. Thus, the dragons followed him and learned to coexist with the Vikings. The villain, Drago, subjugated his dragons by fear, particularly by filling them with the terror of an alpha dragon, an enormous behemoth who commands all lesser dragons. For a while, that works, and even Hiccup’s dragons leave him to join Drago and his alpha out of fear.

Of course, Hiccup regroups and reclaims his personal dragon, Toothless, by appealing to his friendlier, gentler nature and this wins over fear. This eventually rallies the other lesser dragons against Drago and the alpha, who are defeated and left without an army.

So, to sum up this awesome message: It is better to lead with respect and love rather than fear and domination.

Hiccup and Toothless.
Hiccup and Toothless.

This echoes the first movie. Hiccup studied dragons, particularly Toothless, and learned what they are, what they like, and basically how to coexist with them rather than rule them. Dragons still follow Hiccup and his villagers, but it’s because they want to, not because they have to. They are cared for, respected, and allowed to live out their full potential (flying, hunting, etc) in freedom. Hiccup even understood Toothless’s broken tail wing when he lost his leg in the first film. Respect, understanding, and love. America could REALLY learn to lead this way.

You may be thinking, “But America doesn’t rule by fear. It’s a democracy run by the people.” True, but what runs the people? Fear.

Remember the FBI warning at the beginning of every movie? Why do they tell you not to copy it? Because it’s morally wrong? No, it’s because you’ll get a massive fine and jail time. Why do those TV commercials tell you not to drink and drive? Because you’ll hurt someone and/or yourself? No, it’s because you’ll get arrested. Why are kids told not to fight at school? Because it’s wrong to hurt someone? No, it’s because they’ll get in trouble. America has a nasty habit of ruling by consequences, i.e. fear.

Ruling by fear leads to mindless compliance. At best, this fails miserably and people still break the law. This is ineffective. At worst, it succeeds, resulting in a country of robots or slaves. This is tyranny. Nobody wants these things, but fear begets fear. People are so afraid of other people that they amp up the punishment, hoping to fill others with so much fear that they’ll stop being so scary. That was Drago’s policy in the film: terrorize dragons into submission to help him conquer the dragons he feared.

Dragon and his alpha dragon.
Drago and his alpha dragon.

Fear is also easier. Hiccup took considerable time and risk to slowly convince Toothless that he was friendly and to develop a symbiotic relationship with the dragon. Drago subjects one of the mightier dragons on-screen in about 10 seconds. You point a gun in somebody’s face, yeah, you have their attention very quickly. But you don’t have their loyalty, and they are just waiting for you to drop the gun so they can run away, or worse, strike back.

Great leaders throughout history led people by inspiration, respect, and love, not terror and threats. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t point a gun at blacks or whites, but tried to unite them through mutual respect. Colonists rallied behind America’s founding fathers because they stood by the people and wanted to empower them instead of stifle them. Abe Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, said he wanted the Union to win the Civil War not because he wanted to crack the whip on the south, but because he wanted history to show that democracy could survive instead of break apart, as Southern secession would do. This is highly regarded as his most influential work.

Let me offer a personal example. I once worked at a lowly department in a hospital. When our manager retired, two or three new ones went through. Each tried to crack the whip and make us fear them. None of them lasted more than a few months. Then, one of our own was promoted to management. We rejoiced. This man had worked alongside us and knew how we worked and what the job required, so he knew how to lead without being scary. We followed him willingly and he remained and effective leader some years later.

Dragon 4

Do I believe in a healthy kind of fear? Yes. Do I believe that there must be discipline and consequences? Of course. Do I believe obedience to be a good thing? Yes. My problem is when these things become the end-all-beat-all, when leaders care more about compliance than love. If I may reuse a metaphor: point a gun at someone’s head and you’ll have their obedience until the gun vanishes or they no longer fear death. But if you touch their hearts and stir their souls, if you offer them respect and love, you won’t need the gun; they’ll follow you willingly.

Yes, yes, I know “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is blatant fiction, but fiction can tell a lot of good truth. Fear is no way to rule people, no just because it’s immoral, but because it doesn’t last. And more than that, one who rules by fear will also live in fear of the day he loses his edge. A good ruler doesn’t fear losing power because even if he is stripped of his title, his strength, and his freedom, there will always be an army behind him.

QUESTION: Who do you know who led by respect and understanding?

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