Five life lessons we can learn from Hogwarts

June 16, 2015
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J.K. Rowling recently tweeted that all of us who read one of her books, or saw one of the movies, went to Hogwarts. But what did we actually learn from it?

Both the book and movie series might be long finished (notwithstanding the upcoming spinoff), but looking back, several key lessons from Hogwarts remain surprisingly relevant.

With exams almost over, this mightn’t be the most popular thing to say right now, but let’s go back to class.

Rules are for jerks

Under the headmastership of Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter gets away with quite a lot during his time at school. He routinely breaks curfew, he leads other students out of bounds and into the forest, and even starts an illegal underground duelling club in his fifth year (but as we all know, the first rule of Dumbledore’s Army is to not talk about Dumbledore’s Army). But this isn’t because Harry’s a bad kid, or that his teachers are incompetent; Harry (usually) only breaks rules when he genuinely believes they stand in the way of his moral duty.

This is Jo Rowling’s way of teaching us to question the establishment, to stand against injustice even - and especially - when it’s perpetrated by the authorities. Rules are important, but if they perpetuate unfairness, you blast them out of the way with your magic wand.

No wonder people love these books.

Pronunciation is important

“It’s levi-O-sa, not levi-o-SA!”- Hermione Granger, The Philosopher’s Stone

A former English teacher, Rowling constantly reminds us to mind our diction. In the world of Harry Potter, this can straight up ruin your day.

Love is more important than blood

In the familial sweepstakes, Harry loses out bigtime. His parents are killed before he can walk, his godfather is framed for murder, and Harry is consequently raised by his snobbish and neglectful aunt and uncle.

And yet, Harry still finds a large and loving family at Hogwarts. He acquires siblings in his best friends Ron and Hermione, a kindly uncle in Hagrid, a mother in Molly Weasley, father figures in the friends of his parents, and a strict great-aunt in Professor McGonagall.

Harry attracts people who align with his values, and many of these become his real family. It all ties back to Rowling’s theme of actions, not abilities or inheritance, defining people.

Never trust something if you can’t see where it keeps its brain

Excellent advice for anyone living in today’s era of hackers, viruses and online banking. True, the faceless entity in question is unlikely to possess you in order to wreak havoc from beyond the grave, but they can still steal your identity as surely as a Polyjuice Potion.

Apathy is also for jerks

“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” - Albus Dumbledore, The Order of the Phoenix

A recurring theme in the books is the apathy of people who benefit from the status quo. While any sentence using the phrase “house elves” is bound to sound silly, Rowling uses these enslaved magical creatures to illustrate a dynamic that is all too common in the real world. Ron Weasley finds his friend Hermione’s determination to free the elves deeply embarrassing; Ron has grown up with elf slavery as a matter of fact, and as a wizard, stands to gain nothing from their freedom. He sees Hermione’s efforts as a challenge to an ancient practice, and is more concerned with keeping his head down than questioning the established order.

But as Voldemort’s rise to power demonstrates, apathy is where tyranny thrives. Despite receiving an early warning from Harry, the government of the time was too scared of shaking things up to take action against him. It just goes to show: you don’t need to be a moustache-twirling supervillain to do real damage; you just have to not give a shit.

Joel Svensson

Business major, journalism minor and sometime voice-actor, Joel Svensson pretends to be smart at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

Image: Harry Potter official Facebook page