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Elysha Rom-Povolo

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Five Harry Potter Life Lessons

Posted: 07/22/11 06:24 PM ET

SPOILER ALERT: If you still haven't read or watched the Harry Potter series, stop reading this now and go pick up the first book!


J.K. Rowling said that she "wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world." But sometimes it's our world that needs a little magic.

Last Friday, July 15, was the opening for the final Harry Potter movie. And while there was plenty of exciting wandwork, ultimately Harry Potter's success or failure against Voldemort didn't come down to being a better wizard. It will came down to being a better person.

So what can we non-magic people learn from Harry?

Here are a few of my thoughts in the hope that you also share yours.

Diversity is a good thing.
One of the big themes in Harry Potter is that it's not who you are or where you come from that matters, it's the choices that you make. Harry makes friends with unpopular people and magical creatures like Luna Lovegood, Dobby, and Hagrid. And guess what? They end up helping him time and time again.

I see the same dynamic where I live in San Francisco. The Bay Area is diverse and it's awesome because of it.

That's one of the reasons that I get so mad when I hear about things like Senator McCain blaming the Arizona wildfires on illegal immigrants, Representative Peter King holding bizarre and xenophobic hearings on "the radicalization of the American Muslim," or anyone arguing that it's okay to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

If you want to make our community a better place, bring people in. Don't shut them out!

Be brave in the face of fear.
Most of us will probably never be called on to rescue our future spouse from a gigantic poisonous snake that resides in an underground lair. However, we all have to face scary stuff that's a reality of our world right now: poverty, climate change, and human rights abuses.

It can be overwhelming and scary but that doesn't mean we can't do something about it. I hope you join me in trying to be brave!

Denial of a problem will only make the problem worse.
Closely related, J.K. Rowling has a lot to say about what can potentially make a bad problem worse. Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, won't admit that Voldemort is back for over a year. Instead, he points fingers at Dumbledore, saying that Dumbledore is trying to "stir up trouble" and gain power. This forces Dumbledore, and others working to stop Voldemort, into hiding. It also allows Voldemort to gain power more swiftly.

Remind you of anything?

In the U.S., it reminds me of climate change denial. For years, political strategists like Frank Luntz encouraged politicians to "make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue" putting us back years on policy solutions. More recently, Koch brothers' and Texas Oil money was traced to misinformation around Proposition 23 voting here in California. Thankfully, voters saw through it and kept us on track to reduce emissions.

Clearly, climate change is real and is already causing some super scary stuff. But, just like with any problem we face, trying to hide from it, or worse -- demonizing those working for solutions -- is only going to make the problem get bigger and harder to solve. Again, bravery is required.

Question authority.
Many of the people in positions of power in Harry Potter's world have a dark side that ranges from corrupt to outright evil. Besides the Death Eaters, Umbridge, Fudge, Scrimgeour and other Ministry for Magic people are some of the worst because of the way they wield their power.

Harry does right to challenge authority and it's a good reminder for us non-magic folk.

If you are in a position of leadership, be careful with power. If you are an everyday person, remember to not get too complacent.

Trust your friends.
Finally, and probably most importantly, I see the value in Harry of trusting and helping others who are on your side.

Just as Harry's friends come to his aid, we need to help our friends when they need it, and ask when we need help.

Collaboration, working together, and seeing each other as human beings is one of the most important things I've taken from Harry Potter. In Dumbledore's word, "love."

What have you taken from Harry Potter? I look forward to reading your thoughts.