Harry Potter and the Courage it takes to be that First Follower

As anyone who has followed my writings over the years knows, I cry easily. Which is why to those folks it will come as no surprise that the latest and final instalment of the Harry Potter film epic – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – made me cry. Not shuddering sobs but tears of joyful satisfaction. Here’s the reason.

At the heart of the Harry Potter series is author J.K. Rowling’s verdict on the nature of good and evil, and the choices we must all make between them. Rowling can oversimplify. Her black-nailed, nasally challenged Lord Voldemort is hard to miss, while most contemporary Dark Lords blend with the rest of the human community and can be hard to recognise. But hey, it’s a series for young people, so some black and white is forgivable.

But on questions of moral character, Rowling has something subtle and terribly important to say. Something that my observations suggest some adults struggle to grasp.

Early in the Potter tale, the Sorting Hat focuses our mind on the issue. The hat chooses the house in which students will spend their years at Hogwarts. But about Harry, it can’t decide. Does he belong in Gryffindor or Slytherin, the alma mater of Harry’s nemesis, the Dark Lord? What clinches

it is Harry’s yearning to use his ambition, cunning, courage and cleverness – the qualities that destine him to be among the most powerful of wizards – for good. Indeed, it is Harry’s choice at every critical juncture to shrug off greed, exhaustion and fear in order to dedicate his talents for all instead of just for one that distinguishes him from his otherwise mirror-image, Voldemort.

Rowling’s point about the essence of moral character doesn’t just go to leadership but also to the art of following. We can’t all be leaders and certainly not all of the time. For most, it is the choice of if, when and who to follow that will define the moral texture of our lives.

Ethical entrepreneur and musician Derek Sivers gave a TEDx talk last year on why he thinks leadership is over-glorified. What turns the reckless, idealistic Harry from a lone iconoclast into a leader are what Sivers calls ‘'first followers’‘, like the loyal, gormless Ron and the brilliant Hermione. Their unwavering support of Harry is the basis of a movement that topples the numerically superior army behind Voldemort.

What Ron and Hermione did took guts. As Sivers said, being a first follower makes a person stand out and brave ridicule. But, he argued, being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. Why? Because it is those early acolytes that transform a lone nut into a leader. ‘'If the leader is the flint, the first follower is the spark that makes the fire,’‘ he said.

So why did I cry? Because my children have come of age reading Harry Potter and now implicitly understand not just the moral imperatives of leadership but of followerhood. Sivers sums it up best: ‘'When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.’'

Publication history

It's gutsy to follow a longer doing great things   Sunday Sun-Herald