Life is often described as a journey; a road to be traveled; a path to be taken. It is the people and experiences along the way that help shape who we are and give us the courage to become the people we want to be. Imagine my surprise when I found a mentor in the pages of J.K. Rowling’s books. As a role model, this person shows us how to be truly human. The Harry Potter series has many wonderful characters; but to paraphrase Robert Fulghum: Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned from Albus Dumbledore.1
As a character, Dumbledore demonstrated the best qualities of human nature. He exemplified the attributes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.2 Dumbledore was a man who was revered by some and hated by others. As a commanding presence and a powerful leader, he shouldered life’s burdens with humor and quiet strength.
In one of his greatest performances, he berated the Dursleys for their horrible treatment of Harry while under the guise of the perfect houseguest. I don’t think Vernon, Petunia, or Dudley will soon forget the glasses of mead bouncing on their skulls!3 From the moment he arrived on the doorstep, he had complete command of the situation. He was not goaded into an argument with Uncle Vernon or overcome by his emotions. Always the gentleman, he remained the picture of poise, grace and self-control. When I think about Dumbledore’s presence in the Dursleys’ household, Dr. Maya Angelou’s words come to mind, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 4 I bet Vernon, Petunia and Dudley are still feeling the chill, don’t you?5
To the casual observer, Dumbledore may appear to be a polite, doddering fool. In reality, however, he was a pillar of patience and strength in the face of adversity. Dumbledore came to Harry’s rescue when he faced expulsion from Hogwarts. He beat the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, at his own game and stole the show at Harry’s hearing. Suspecting that the Ministry was up to something, he arrived for the hearing three hours early and foiled their plans. True to form, Dumbledore gave a grand performance for the Wizengamot and flustered Cornelius Fudge. Ever the showman, he conjured a squashy chintz armchair at the trial when something more conservative would have been appropriate.6 Perhaps he is arrogant and a bit of a know-it-all, but when you have the audience eating out of your hand, you might as well take a bow!
Dumbledore was a man who was able to express his feelings with insight and sensitivity. This was beautifully demonstrated in a conversation with Harry after Sirius’s death:
“I feel I owe you another explanation, Harry,” said Dumbledore hesitantly. “You may, perhaps, have wondered why I never chose you as a prefect? I must confess…that I rather thought …you had enough responsibility to be going on with.”
Harry looked up and saw a tear trickling down Dumbledore’s face into his long silver beard.7
Who says that real men don’t cry? Despite all that had happened, he remembered that Harry was disappointed about not being a prefect. At that moment, I discovered the kind and gentle heart of Albus Dumbledore.
As a man, Dumbledore believed in the importance and power of love. As a wizard, he understood power and the evil it can possess. Dumbledore was a champion of peace, but he fought against and defeated the dark wizard, Grindelwald.8 Unwavering in these beliefs, Albus Dumbledore the only wizard Voldemort ever feared.9
As a person set apart from others due to his intellect and abilities, Dumbledore enjoyed common things like sweets and Madam Rosmerta’s oak-matured mead.10 He was able to approach life with patience and a healthy sense of humor. When Harry smashed the silver instruments in his office Dumbledore said serenely, “By all means continue destroying my possessions. […] I daresay I have too many.” 11 What a delightfully droll sense of humor! I’m not sure if I would have been able to show Harry as much understanding.
Dumbledore was well known for giving others second chances and trusting his friends. He was evasive when he needed to be when he deflected Harry’s question about what he saw in the Mirror of Erised, but was direct about the prophecy after Sirius’s death. Dumbledore felt grief and could relate to pain. Above all he believed that “It is our choices […] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 12 When he was speaking to Cornelius Fudge he went on to say, “You place too much importance […] on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!” 13 The foundation of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s is reminiscent of the same sentiment.
Dumbledore didn’t spend his time trying to be perfect and was able to admit his mistakes. He cherished youth, but reveled in the wisdom of age. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix he said:
“Harry, I owe you an explanation,” said Dumbledore. “An explanation of an old man’s mistakes. For I see now that what I have done, and not done, with regard to you, bears all the hallmarks of the failings of age. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young…and I seem to have forgotten lately….” 14
Dumbledore was a perplexing character with many redeeming qualities. He had the rare ability to sacrifice himself and his position for the common good. He was never afraid to ask questions or challenge authority. In order to keep Harry from being expelled for the creation of Dumbledore’s Army, he took responsibility and resigned as Headmaster of Hogwarts. He avoided arrest and escaped the Ministry with a dramatic exit. Dumbledore was the type of person who could make the preposterous seem probable. He appeared to have disapparated inside the walls of his office when according to Hogwarts: A History that was impossible. As he left […] Harry heard Phineas Nigellus’s [say], “You know, Minister, I disagree with Dumbledore on many counts…but you cannot deny he’s got style…” 15 Despite his love for drama and celebrity, he wasn’t lured into the trap of his own fame. You would never see him standing on a corner signing autographs like Gilderoy Lockhart.
Dumbledore viewed life from a unique perspective and was unfazed by the event Voldemort feared most, death.16 Like many people, Voldemort is a victim of his own vanity and fears the end of his earthly existence. Because we love ourselves more than anything else, we fear the end of our time. Dumbledore, however, didn’t fear death but felt it was the next great adventure.17 He said, “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” 18 Because of his approach to life and death, Dumbledore remained a bit of a mystery to others. He was the type of person that always left something for speculation. Take it from someone that has been married for more than a decade, a little mystery in a man isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As a mere Muggle, I have a lot to learn from Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.19 He showed me that our existence is about choices. Life can be a difficult road, but love will help guide the way. He also demonstrated the significance of humility and the importance of sacrifice. Through his humor, he suggested that life is what you make it. He said, “Humans have a knack for choosing precisely the things that are worst for them.” 20 If I can emulate just a fraction of his essence, I will have learned something substantial about how to live, what to do and how to be. Dumbledore was a great wizard, but as a teacher he’s still giving lessons!
1. Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, 2.
2. The Bible: New International Version, Gal. 5:22-23.
3. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 51.
4. ThinkExist.com. “Maya Angelou quotes.”
5. Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, 55.
6. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 139.
7. Ibid., 844.
8. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 102-3.
9. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 679.
10. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 48.
11. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 825.
12. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 333.
13. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 708.
14. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 826.
15. Ibid., 622-23.
16. Ibid., 814.
17. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 297.
18. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 566.
19. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 39.
20. Ibid., Sorcerer’s Stone, 297.Bibliography
Angelou, Maya. ThinkExist.com Quotations. “Maya Angelou quotes.” ThinkExist.com Quotations Online 1 Mar. 2006. 14 Apr. 2006 http://10.1.0.106/quotes/Maya_Angelou/
The Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1978.
Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2003.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.