The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

4 lessons Harry Potter can teach us about tolerance – cross-cultural and otherwise

Yesterday, our Random Nomad, Jo Gan said:

“If something one of us does bothers the other person, we compromise… If you really want to make a relationship to work, any relationship, it takes respect, consideration, and a willingness to compromise.”

Wise words, Jo, and sentiments which another Jo – Jo Rowling, better known as JK Rowling – would agree with.

Love them?

Since 1997 and the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we have been engulfed in the world of Hogwarts, wizards, witches, and muggles. With today’s movie release of  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2), however, this week marks the end of the Harry Potter era.

Perhaps I was just at the right stage of family life to love Harry Potter. My children were toddlers when Philosopher’s Stone was published; this month, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione reach school-leaving age, so do they.  Together, over the last fourteen years, we have read the books, seen the movies, and queued at midnight in bookstores.

Or hate them?

It’s apparent, though, that not everyone shares this affection. While I understand we all have different tastes and Harry Potter cannot possibly be everyone’s cup of butterbeer, in too many cases this aversion has gone far past simple dislike into the realms of…well, ‘hatred’ isn’t too strong a word for it.

Pretty ironic, really, when one of the main Harry Potter themes is Tolerance.

Could it be that the very people who claim to detest Harry Potter are, perhaps, those who most need to read the books?

1. Tolerance of things we fear

Harry’s aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, fear all things magic. They won’t even permit Harry to use the M word – “Magic” – in their presence, and they confiscate his Hogwarts textbooks over summer vacations.

These actions are not unlike those of some fundamentalist churches, who periodically burn Harry Potter books. One Baptist pastor claims:

“The Potter series is worse than pornography. The books are even more dangerous than the Satanic Bible. At least with the Satanic Bible, young people know that the book was written by Satan. The Devil just changed his name to J.K. Rowling this time.”

Satan needn’t have bothered. It won’t help him get a share of the royalties.

2. Tolerance of infirmities

Professor Lupin, a teacher at Hogwarts, is humiliated and discriminated against because, through no fault of his own, he has a chronic disease – lycanthropy. In other words, once a month, he will turn into a wolf, bay at the moon, and run around biting people. The disease is now fully controlled by potions, but Professor Snape still regards it as his duty to inform Hogwarts pupils of Professor Lupin’s  condition.

Sadly, many AIDS sufferers can probably empathize with Professor Lupin’s plight.

However, we learn that in his teenage years, when no potion was available for his disease, Professor Lupin had three friends who developed their own ability to change into animal form, so they could keep Lupin company during full moon.

A true friend, like a life partner, will be tolerant of you in both sickness and in health.

3. Tolerance of other races

Voldemort followers in the Potter series want to rid the world of muggle magicians – wizards and witches who are not born into aristocratic magical families, but born in the real world and who display magical talent. Hermione is one of these, as was Harry Potter’s mother – both brilliant witches, but their talents apparently not good enough for Voldemort’s approval.

The parallels between Voldemort and Hitler, between the uprising of Voldemort followers and the Nazi party, between the desires for a master race and for pure-blood magicians, are only too evident.

4. Tolerance of things we envy

Lastly, a lesson not in the text of the books, but from reactions to the books.

There is wide criticism from both writers and ‘readers’ (I use quotes because generally these people haven’t read the books at all, but are prepared to offer criticism nevertheless) that the books have a clunky writing style, use too many adverbs – in short, name a writing sin, and JKR has committed it, it seems, and therefore does not deserve all the acclaim she has received.

No matter that this woman had an idea, worked on it determinedly for many years under far from ideal conditions, and finally achieved her goal of turning this idea into seven books. How dare someone rise from single motherhood on welfare to happily married, multimillionaire author?

In other words: How dare JK Rowling not be me?

As Jo Gan also said yesterday:

We have learned to accept each other’s differences.

If only everyone could say the same.

STAY TUNED for the first part in our series of interviews with cross-cultural couples.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe for email delivery of The Displaced Nation. That way, you won’t miss a single issue. SPECIAL OFFER: New subscribers receive a FREE copy of “A Royally Displaced Tea.”
Related Posts:

RANDOM NOMAD: Jo Gan, Director of Foreign Teachers, Author and Blogger

Cross-cultural marriage? 4 good reasons not to rush into it…

The Displaced Reads: 7 Books with a twist of Alice

8 responses to “4 lessons Harry Potter can teach us about tolerance – cross-cultural and otherwise

  1. ML Awanohara July 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I’m not a big Harry Potter fan, but I also don’t fall into the category of those who criticize JK without having read the books. On the contrary, I have to hand it to her for making her fame and fortune by writing stuff that kids (and some adults) get so excited about .

    In light of this month’s Pocahontas theme on our blog, I’m very interested in your point #3 — that she may, with her theme of mixed bloods and pure bloods, be teaching kids the importance of showing tolerance toward those who come from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

    Do you know if JK was ever an expat? Or did her interest in this theme spring from her careful reading of WWII history? (Did she intend for her readers to perceive a parallel between Voldemort and Hitler?)

  2. Kate Allison July 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    She lived in Portugal for a time, married a Portuguese guy while she was there, and had a little girl, Jessica. When the marriage broke up, JKR and the baby went to live in Scotland (not the southwest of England, which is where JKR was from originally.) So I guess she’s had a fair experience of being among different backgrounds.

  3. lifebehindthewall July 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    Wow…Wow…Wow… this post is very, very good… no honestly… and not only because you quoted me… hehehe… but because it is so true. This is the year 2011… and so many people, countries, and nations have yet to learn … Tolerance. I tell my teachers when they first get to China and to my school that the first thing you need to learn before you ever get into the classroom, or speak to a Chinese person is tolerance….it is the only way to survive here for any length of time. Great, post I am sharing it on my facebook and blog….

  4. Jack Scott July 16, 2011 at 5:13 am

    My partner, Liam, loves Harry Potter (in a good way, obviously) and read every one. It’s not my thing but I tolerate his slight obsession. How can anyone hate a book or a writer? It’s ridiculous but then so many people are ridiculous – burning books that they’ve never read, protesting about plays that they’ve never seen and baying for the blood of people they’ve never met. One thing I would say about JK is she got children reading again and this has got to be a good thing. Okay it isn’t Shakespeare but at least it isn’t some video nasty computer game.

  5. Spinster July 16, 2011 at 6:11 am

    This is a really good post. I’m not into Harry Potter – never read the books or saw the movies – but I don’t hate the phenomenon either. That Baptist pastor is an idiot. 😐

  6. July 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Here’s some Harry Potter tolerance for you…..

  7. Emma Zanfardino May 7, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    I loved the Harry Potter books along with the movies. Even though i did not realize it before, but all of these are true. I am kind of obsessed with reading and these books will continue to be at the top of my reading list! I have gotten so many of my friends into reading with the help of j.k. rowling and her wonderful Harry Potter books. Some of these are utterly ridiculous! Burning a book you’ve never even read! How dare you call one of the authors of all time, not to mention that she is the highest earning novelist in history, the devil! I cannot believe that some people have to take things too far! If you don’t like the books, just say nicely “Oh, yeah they weren’t the right type of books for me.” or something like that. Don’t go and burn the book for goodness sake!!

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