Deny Not Others Their Hope.

Semi-occasionally, I glance at the blog by Andrew Sullivan. Not that this is his fault, as he’s quoting two other people having an online argument, but this post is grievously depressing.

Essentially, it began with an argument that it is – and I quote – horrible to teach to children that, like Harry Potter, you need to be chosen, that the highest places in this world are by celestial fiat, and that the world is not a pure meritocracy. Granted that it isn’t, but kids shouldn’t be taught that.

Look… I bothered to read the books at the age of, I think I was 31 at the time. I wanted to know what everyone was talking about. Harry Potter may enter a mystical world, but it is strictly from the bottom, with benefactors but being treated very badly by his family, being constantly looked down upon by genuine aristocrats in the world of Wizardry, and increasingly treated with nationwide contempt and revulsion as his refusal to become a political pawn leads to government-sponsored newspaper campaigns against him.

I don’t want to spoil for those who plan on viewing all the details in the final film, but a life as a prince or a national leader is not coming for him. Rowling does not idealize aristocracy; quite the contrary, much of the books present aristocracy in an immensely negative light. (Having said this, in spite of its many failings, government is treated as an important force for good that must be protected by sacrifice for the good of the many.)

To take this and then say, Oh look! Harry Potter is an aristocrat! How horrible to show this to children! is just… morbidly depressing.

Totally aside the little issue of truth and facts, I acknowledge that this isn’t the point at all. Nor do I wish to make it so.

Rather, I think that it is wrong to take away the hope of children who were born with very little.

My own family was not and is not rich, and I hope dearly that a very promising business venture currently getting off the ground leads to greater prosperity. That said, in spite of the extensive knowledge of language I squeezed out of life, my “toy quotient” is really not very high at all. That goes for the rest of the family too. My experience in life is about making the best out of what little we have and squeezing the highest quality of life from it.

The vast majority of children who read something like Harry Potter or Oliver Twist (where Oliver inherits a family fortune and is delivered from a horrid existence in the end) are using these sorts of stories to project HOPE onto these characters and give themselves some comfort in life. The simple fact is, after all, that hard work alone is highly unlikely to deliver everything that people want. Even a great deal of luck and outright genius are often insufficient; legion are the geniuses who were only honored after they were safely dead.

Harry Potter and Oliver Twist began life in absolutely miserable circumstances, even worse than those circumstances of many of the readers. The idea that even people in horrible circumstances may cling to hope and, given opportunities, make the most of them, is something that may not be especially realistic in many circumstances… but at the same time, the idea is one that gives comfort to the masses.

There are people who want to take magic away from this world (in a figurative sense). They want to crush hope to create a generation of angry and resentful children whose only motivation in life becomes envy, class struggle, and finally, revolution. Such people believe we are in a constant state of social warfare. Rather than allow hope, entertainment, fantasy, and nice, completely unrealistic dreams, they want to pop that bubble and drag children back down to the dreary reality they are all too familiar with and wanted to escape from to begin with.

To put it as mildly as I am capable of, this is nasty. I would even go so far as to call it abusive behavior towards children.

Let’s have a truce. Let’s make the dreams of children a DMZ, a demilitarized zone where children can be allowed to enjoy themselves without constantly being dragged into the battles of bitter and resentful adults.

Becoming A Hope Peddler

More broadly, this entire incident has made me look at the issue of giving people hope rather than playing upon their bitterness.

I believe that particularly for people with little, hope is a necessary salve for the wounds of the spirit. Obviously, the fulfillment of greed isn’t an option for one’s happiness if you can’t afford a lot. Therefore, rather than channel all this into anger and resentment, channeling it into hope is something that does a great deal to heal the spirit.

Losing touch of the irrational, quaint, and very emotionally necessary hope that things will get better, just because things are not always absolutely the same in this world, is a saddening thing, and is something we should resist as much as possible. The whole reason people write these books for children, really, is to give them something to grab onto that isn’t at the same level of ugliness that our adult world is constantly filled with: war, destruction, economic disaster, social tensions, and so on.

More broadly, for the vast majority of us in first world countries, daily life is not that bad compared to what it could be. Yet our news is dominated by the negative… and for good reason: we want to know what might hurt us. It’s a survival reflex.

Yet even on an adult level, hope is something that we should not just cling to, but spread as far as possible, like the wings of a white dove soaring above in the bright, blue, lightly clouded sky.

Why? Because we need it, and because the world we live in retains the kind of natural beauty that Zen practitioners focus on in order to maintain some sense of focus and balance against the constant onslaught of negativity.

We need hope. I think more and more that I want to be the sort of person who gives it, who speaks of it, who spreads it – because it sure beats the alternative to shame.

Anyway, that’s my opinion for today. – J