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Recently, my grandchildren and I binge-watched the entire series of Harry Potter on DVDs. What fascinated me was discovering the character who repulsed them most wasn’t Voldemort (excuse me, “He Who Must Not Be Named”)—the egomaniacal, powerful wizard who directs the rise of darkness. They despised Dolores Umbridge who was forced upon Hogwarts school as headmistress by the corrupt Ministry of Magic.
Granted, Dolores Umbrage is one nasty lady. She is cruel and spiteful, but next to Voldemort, who murders and maims without a second thought, she seems like a second-tier villain. She dresses like a maiden aunt in pink and bows and decorates her office in images of kittens. She is a fusser. So, beyond being annoying, what’s so horrible?
First, she is not what she seems. We’re more comfortable with villains who LOOK like villains or our concept of them. The world seems to make sense. We would rather persecute someone innocent who fits our picture of evil than entertain the idea that we can’t tell good from bad without concerted effort. For children, Dolores Umbrage looks like many other adults who are granted control over them—the aunt, the teacher, the librarian, sometimes the mom or grandma. We give our children over to adults we accept as being safe and responsible, but we don’t always learn about the nightmares that happen once we’re no longer on scene.
Second, Dolores Umbrage is viciously close-minded. She doesn’t listen to explanations, except to use the words spoken against the person daring to speak. Her punishments always exceed the misdeed, and she takes delight in administering merciless pain. Her opinions cannot be questioned no matter how unfair or illogical they may be. She epitomizes the frustration we all feel when what’s right doesn’t win out and there is no remedy. An evil laugh is easier to stomach than a spiteful giggle.
In contrast, Voldemort is unashamedly evil. As a boy, he presented himself as someone striving to be good, but we all ask our children to “act nice.” As an adult, he discarded the sham of goodness and did his best to become the baddest bad possible. No one expects mercy from him. In his way, he’s perfectly honest. He will always do what is best for him and worst for his enemies.
My takeaway from this comparison is that children, the purest of us all, are appalled by deception and close-mindedness. They can understand the presence of darkness in their world, but they want adults to be consistent, so they know how to react. Mixed messages of love and hate at the same time are toxic. And close-mindedness runs contrary to all that children represent as they look at the world with joyful open wonder.
Come to think of it, we are universally disgusted when people we hoped were good end up conjuring evil out of our trust. Deception causes great harm. We struggle to give goodness the upper hand. We look for the light, but we need to protect ourselves from the dark.