By John Hamerlinck
“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
If your life is rooted in civic engagement, you should not discount the value of the philosophical underpinnings presented in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. The Potter books have sold more than 400 million copies. There are countless Internet fan sites and the film adaptations of the books have been wildly successful.
Harry Potter, however, is more than a worldwide popular culture phenomenon. These fictional characters have delivered positive messages of dedicating oneself to creating a world where people look out for one another. These messages have not been lost on a significant number of people in an entire generation, and we are beginning to see evidence that this epic tale of good versus evil is having a positive influence in real life.
The Potter books reinforce values of social justice and community building. The books are filled with themes of tolerance and acceptance. For example, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Sirius Black says, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
Friendship and collaboration is important to Harry. He knows that he cannot affect positive change on his own. Rowling also emphasizes the importance of acting on your values for the common good. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Professor Dumbledore reminds us that, “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”
But these are just kids’ stories, right? Children have always been inundated by stories with morals; haven’t they? Maybe, but there is something going on out there.
A recent Newsweek article profiled a newly founded nonprofit organization called the Harry Potter Alliance. The organization is asking Potter fans worldwide to take a stand on issues such as discrimination, genocide, poverty, AIDS, and global warming. Their Web site lists local chapters in nearly 20 states and the District of Columbia.
The Web site www.givesmehope.com collects Twitter-like snippets of everyday examples of acts of human kindness that give hope to the submitter. GivesMeHope was started in May 2009 by Emerson Spartz, 22, whose previous claim to fame was creating (at age 12!) Mugglenet.com, one of the most popular Harry Potter fan sites on the Internet.
Here are a couple of recent GivesMeHopeposts:
“Today I was walking in town with my 4-year-old daughter and it began to rain. I didn’t have an umbrella so I used my coat to try to shelter her from the rain. At a stoplight, a young woman tossed her umbrella out her window at us, smiled, and drove away.”
“My friend’s younger sister was coming home by herself when a guy on the bus began hassling her. An elderly man on the other side of the bus stood up and demanded that the guy “leave his granddaughter alone”. The guy stopped, and got off at the next stop. The elderly man was a stranger.”
Harry Potter-inspired volunteer efforts and inspirational motivation messages may not be transforming the world yet, but don’t underestimate the potential good that may one day come from harnessing this well-guided youthful passion. After all, if a determined boy and a group of his friends can save the world from evil domination what might millions of his friends achieve?