The Importance of Hearing Out Our Opponents
The world of Potter fandom has always been filled with a diverse range of opinions, but with the release of both Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child on the horizon, lines dividing fans into schisms old and new have been broadening. The new Fantastic Beasts trailer gave us some new information on Newt that contradicted what we read in the original Fantastic Beasts text. While there may be some canon contradictions as to how Newt ended his Hogwarts career, J.K. Rowling has always been consistent in her beliefs about free speech and the censorship of opinions that differ from our own.
During her acceptance speech for the 2016 PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award last week, Rowling said,
I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted, but he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there.
These were surprising words considering she compared Trump to her own horrific antagonist on Twitter not so long ago; however, this sentiment aligns with her past statements regarding always allowing others to speak their piece. No matter how it’s used, free speech is an invaluable right, and when those with differing opinions use it to come together and engage in dialog, it can become a powerful tool for change. Rowling illustrated this when she used Dumbledore’s willingness to meet Snape on the hilltop to back up her position on the Israeli cultural boycott conflict.
…wise and prescient as Dumbledore is, he is not a Seer. At the moment when he answers Snape’s call, he cannot know that Snape isn’t going to try and kill him. He can’t know that Snape will have the moral or physical courage to change course, let alone help defeat Voldemort. Yet still, Dumbledore goes to the hilltop.
Just as Rowling finds many of Trump’s beliefs objectionable, Dumbledore was deeply disturbed by many aspects of Death Eater ideology. She went on to explain that “Dumbledore is an academic, and he believes that certain channels of communication should always remain open.” His willingness to hear Snape out changed the course of the Wizarding War and ultimately led to Voldemort’s defeat.
Just hearing the words of people we disagree with isn’t always enough to make changes in the world. After Voldemort returned, Cornelius Fudge heard Dumbledore’s thoughts on the state of the wizarding world more than once. If he had taken a moment to consider that Dumbledore might have been right, Fudge may have been able to end the Ministry’s alliance with the Dementors and stop all of those prisoners from escaping Azkaban. Instead, Dumbledore and the Order were forced to carry out their fight against Voldemort in secret, allowing the Dark Lord to gain traction that he may never have had access to if the Ministry had been on the lookout.
Even the story’s heroes weren’t able to make changes when they refused to listen to those they disagreed with. Hermione wanted to improve working conditions for house-elves, but she refused to hear that they didn’t want freedom and tried to set them free through trickery. She refused to take any route besides the one she thought was best, and the house-elves never gained any rights throughout the course of the novels.
Free speech is an incredible tool to help opposing groups find a place of compromise, but we can never use it to its full potential if we lock ourselves in echo chambers that just reinforce our own opinions. New conflicts in canon and old opinions on the original story will keep debate lively among Potter fans, but disagreements have the potential to get especially nasty now that fans are being forced to confront real-world issues such as race and gender within the context of a series they’ve known and loved for years.
Some people will believe things that you find repulsive. Some people will have ideas about the Potter series that you find ludicrous. During her acceptance speech, Rowling said that “[Trump’s] freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot.” As awful as it is to hear people saying things that we find offensive, we can’t silence those opinions if we wish to continue voicing our opposition to them. It can be exhausting to be met with what we consider offensive opposition at every corner, but I believe it’s important not to assume that everyone who disagrees with us will be unwilling to compromise in their opinion. As much as we can, we should try to be like Dumbledore. If we listen to the Snapes in our lives, we might be able to change the outcomes of our own wizarding wars.