I have loved the messages in the Harry Potter series since I first picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I share this love with many of my family members. I hope you enjoy the following article written by a very talented writer, Joanna B. Brewer.
Cathy Wilson, LPC ACS
The Harry Potter series is rife with life lessons, even ones that apply to muggles. These moral lessons are peppered throughout, whether Harry learns it the hard way or hears it straight from Dumbledore, who always has something profound to say, lest we forget, “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” I’ve always felt that what I learned from the Harry Potter series has lastingly affected my own moral thinking, and I know that’s probably true for thousands of people. We come to the Harry Potter books for lush world building and we stay for the moral guidance woven throughout (and also still the world building). Here is just a house elf’s handful of lessons to take away from the books.
1.) The most important relationships in your life are your Patronus. This probably goes without saying, but the friendship Harry cultivates with Ron and Hermione in his first year at Hogwarts proves by the end of the series to be the unbreakable kind, the kind that we can all either relate to or aspire to with our own relationships. It’s the kind of friendship that makes me have embarrassing dreams whenever I’m rereading the series that the trio is actually a quartet and I’m the fourth friend. On multiple occasions in the books, Harry thinks of Ron and Hermione when he must conjure a Patronus charm to ward off dementors. Apply all the symbolism you like; his friends are literally the joy that drives out darkness.
These treasured relationships can also serve as a testament to the value of chosen family. Even though Harry is Petunia Dursley’s own flesh and blood, she seemingly devotes her life to making Harry miserable, and brings her husband and son in on it, too. But Harry quickly finds family in Ron and Hermione, with the Weasleys at the Burrow, and even with Hagrid in his little hut with his rock cakes.
Your friends matter. Your chosen family matters.
2.) However someone treats you, you have value, and power, too. After eleven years of mistreatment by the Dursleys, Harry probably could have turned out super different. With his resilience, and a little sass, he somehow managed not to let the Dursleys’ straight-up physical and emotional abuse tear him down. Even before he knew that he was a wizard, he knew that he deserved better, that he has inherent value as a person, as well as a kind of power that has nothing to do with magic—the power over whether the Dursleys could make him feel as inferior as they wanted him to be.
We can’t always control the people we’re around, especially as we’re growing up. It may even take years into adulthood to realize what control we do have. But eventually, we might learn our own power in how we let toxic people impact us. Whether it’s someone we know too well, or someone who feels empowered by their anonymity to put people down by trolling on the internet or doling out abuses from the driver’s seat of their car in traffic, they need our consent to succeed. We may not have the magic wands to whip up whimsical consequences, but we have the power to choose how angry, sad, scared, or generally negative people affect our own well-being.
3.) Use critical thinking, don’t jump to conclusions. It isn’t until the final chapters of the last book in the series that Harry discovers he was wrong about Professor Snape all along. From the beginning, Harry assumed (maybe correctly) that Snape didn’t like him. From this, though, he concluded that Snape must therefore be in cahoots with Voldemort.
It’s true that Snape is an enormously unfair meanie-head who tortures Harry, his friends, and Gryffindor at large at any given opportunity, seemingly in the name of Slytherin and all that Salazar Slytherin stood for. But as we learn, it’s more of a nuanced meanie-headedness. Snape has his reasons, and—it needs to be said—he deserves some wizarding world equivalent to an Oscar for seven years of pretending to be bad. Snape’s bitterness comes from a place of deeply nurtured grief and pain, and though we can likely all agree he didn’t have to be so mean, Harry’s journey through Snape’s memories is a reminder that you can never truly know what someone has been through until they tell you, and it is unfair to make assumptions about them based on their attitude.
To take this lesson a step further, when presented with information—any information, be it about someone else, something that’s happened, or something you think about yourself—ask yourself, “Do I really know this is true?” Getting into this habit can help change patterns of thinking about ourselves, and indeed others, that don’t serve us. When we allow ourselves to think critically, we can improve our relationships with ourselves, our situations, and other people.
4.) Leverage Strengths. Throughout the series, but most notably in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, depending on where you’re at), the trio delegate tasks and trials based on their strengths. Ron’s chess skills make him the proper person of the three friends to lead the moves on the giant chess board; Harry’s quidditch skills give him the best advantage to catch the flying key; Hermione, being a generally logical and witty person, determines from Snape’s riddle which potion will safely allow Harry through the fiery threshold to the final chamber, where Voldemort awaits. In trusting each other to take on the tasks that suit their differing strengths, the friends are able to move forward safely and efficiently while conserving their respective energy.
Everyone has different strengths. We spend varying amounts of free time honing them. Whether at work or home, when a project is big and/or things feel overwhelming, ask for help from people whose strengths are compatible with certain demands. Even if you are a self-sufficient badass who prefers independence, sometimes asking for help saves you time and energy, and often you will find that people want to help when their strengths are needed. When Harry tried to sneak off to find all the horcruxes by himself, Ron and Hermione wouldn’t let him, because they knew that he would need their unique strengths, and maybe a little honest-to-goodness friendship along the way. And they were right.
5.) Never underestimate the power of love. A recurring theme emerges in the Harry Potter series: love is more powerful than magic. Again and again, we see how love influences decisions, saves lives, and complicates characters by altering their moral compass. For starters, Lily Potter’s love for her infant son is cited as the reason why Voldemort is unsuccessful in his first attempt to kill him. While this certainly may be love’s most impressive (if not fantastical) feat in the series, the concept lets readers know early on what this story is ultimately about. We later learn that Snape’s love for Lily is the driving force behind both his betrayal of Voldemort and his detestation for Harry that makes his performance so believable.
The most immovable beacon of love throughout this series, in my opinion, is Mrs. Weasley. She loves her family to pieces, and she loves Harry practically right away for no reason at all other than that he is just there, having no idea how to get to the Hogwarts Express. She doesn’t even know who he is. Mrs. Weasley’s love is a constant that later possesses her to take on Bellatrix Lestrange with a motherlode of badassery that still gives me actual chills.
And finally, while by this time I had personally written off Narcissa Malfoy as “evil,” it is her love for her son that motivates her to deceive Voldemort. She pretends that Harry is dead when he isn’t, allowing for the moment when he finally rises to do what must be done. If you forget anything from the Harry Potter books, let it never be this: it’s for the love of Draco Malfoy that Harry Potter ultimately lives to defeat Voldemort. Because love has no sides. Love is not good. Love is not evil. It’s just love—and its influence over the characters in this story is more powerful than any other force. Magic, politics, and even Hagrid’s cooking are no match for love. No matter how difficult those rock cakes were to chew, how many times did Harry still eat them out of love for Hagrid? Too many, probably.
What do you think? What other life lessons can a muggle take away from Harry Potter’s story?
by Joanna B. Brewer