This is my first entry for a new planned series called “Lessons from Harry Potter.” I’ve been thinking about this for several years, and it finally struck me that today might be the day to start. My plan is to slowly read my way through the series, and write blog posts about the life lessons I encounter along the way. Yes, I’ve read the books before. I’ve read the whole series probably five or six times, but I’ve never read it like this or written about it like this. Most of my re-readings of the books were done in anticipation of a new book coming out. I was always looking for clues so that I could form my own hypothesis about what might happen next. Later, after the last book came out, I was looking for clues that I missed. Either way, I usually read several books at once rather than slowing down and reading only a chapter at a time in order to give myself more time to ponder the individual moments. That’s what I want to do now. I want to read slowly and ponder.
I keep returning to Harry Potter because it has become comfort reading for me. I read it when I need to relieve stress. I read it when I need to feel better. I read it when I need to give my head and my emotions time to recover from whatever else is going on. One reason Harry Potter works for this is because I have read all of the books before. I don’t have to give the story my full attention in order to follow it and appreciate it. Another reason it works for this is that it is full of life lessons meant to help us reassess our lives and overcome our troubles. Like the advice to eat a little chocolate and think of your happiest moments if you feel soul-deep sorrow. Who doesn’t need to be reminded of that from time to time?
And so I begin with Book 1, Chapter 1. I see more than one life lesson in this chapter, but I’m going to start with the one that really jumps out at me.
Don’t be a Dursley.
Don’t care more about what you suspect other people think of you than you care about the people themselves. Don’t be afraid of being associated with people who are not the same as you. Don’t act like a jerk toward people you think are odd. If you fall into the trap of the Dursleys, the harder you try to avoid odd people, the more absurd you become.
The Dursleys aren’t the truly evil threats in the book. They don’t rival Voldemort. They don’t rival the death eaters. They don’t even rival Professor Umbridge. No one, not even Harry, is actually in danger from them. Still, they are among the first people we meet in the story, and we return to them every summer with Harry. They are introduced to us as mean and uncaring people. They are prejudiced and disapproving and standoffish toward people they should love. We don’t like the Dursleys, but we also feel sorry for them because their version of mean hurts them more than it hurts anyone else. They are ridiculous. They are pathetic. We see right through them.
They are here to remind us that not everyone mean is evil. Mean people deserve our compassion too. They are also here to remind us that people who are just mean rather than evil can’t really hurt us and aren’t worth worrying about.
But maybe mean people are good for a few laughs. They are ridiculous. Everyone is laughing at them.
Don’t be a Dursley.
Embrace the odd and the adventurous. Don’t worry about what people think of you. Care about people more than appearances. Treat everyone the same. You might as well. The harder you try to avoid people who are different, the weirder you become.