Don’t Be Too Quick to Judge; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Not So Different

In this special, seven-part series, we are working through the Harry Potter series, book by book, to discuss the lessons each book can teach a cappella groups. If you haven’t read the books before, beware—this series does include spoilers.

Extra warning—this post is particularly spoileriffic, as we spill into The Deathly Hollows as well. Be forewarned.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince we arrive one of the most truly shocking moments of the series—the death of Dumbledore. The old wizard serves as a mentor, guide, and protector for so much of Harry’s journey, that it’s difficult to imagine a whole leg of the journey without him. This makes Harry, and us readers, all the more passionately disposed to loathe the man who kills the headmaster—Severus Snape.

Yes, as we turn the corner from book six to book seven, Snape rivals Voldemort for the title of most loathsome character in this fictional universe, if not for sheer magnitude of evil, then for his capacity for treachery. After all, Dumbledore trusted and endorsed Snape as a reformed man, who had legitimately left his allegiance to the dark arts behind. When he turns around to slay someone who trusted him so, it marks an absolutely reprehensible decision by a seemingly reprehensible man.

Until we learn he killed Dumbledore at Dumbledore’s request.

Indeed, over the course of a seven book arc, Harry learns a lesson he, and we, the readers, probably should have learned over the course of Snape’s trials in The Sorcerer’s Stone, the seemingly good nature of Tom Riddle in his diary in The Chamber of Secrets, from Sirius Black’s apparent evil-doing in The Prisoner of Azkaban, and the imposter Moody’s act in The Goblet of Fire. The lesson is simple: looks can be deceiving; don’t judge someone on one occurrence, out of context.

This same lesson applies to many aspects of an a cappella group’s journey. At some point there’s likely to be a slacker group member who doesn’t seem to carry his weight. More often than not there’s something going on with him to keep him from investing in the group whether it’s personal or family struggles, or feeling overextended, or finding the group itself overwhelming. In such cases, it’s easy to write off someone; it’s more useful to take the time to get to know him and talk about what’s going on. Maybe the group isn’t the right fit for him. Maybe there’s something the group can do to help him. One way or another, seeking out the heart of the matter and dealing with it is far more productive than talking behind someone’s back or waiting until things reach a boiling point.

Similarly, plenty of groups have a history of getting involved in petty rivalries with other groups be it because of the perception of a group stealing a song, costume, or choreography idea, or because one group unfairly beat another in competition. Maybe I can’t speak totally fairly on this because I haven’t been in a collegiate a cappella group personally, but from having spent time with members of many groups—including groups that profess to not like each other—it’s striking how similar and equally likable these folks are, despite their perceived differences. It’s fine to be competitive, but don’t forget that, after the competition is over, there’s no harm in making new friends.

It’s also easy for a cappella groups to demonize judges or critics who knocked their performances or rated other groups ahead of them. To quote the great Randy Pausch, “You may not want to hear it, but your critics are often the ones telling you they still love you and care about you, and want to make you better.” Individual criticisms will be hit or miss, but if someone takes to the time to suggest how you might improve, you’re a fool not to listen.

As human beings we’re often quick to make judgments are rarely have the benefit of seeing the whole picture as clearly as readers of the final two books of the Harry Potter series do. The next time you’re cultivating hate in the a cappella universe, consider the case of Snape, and how far reality can veer from perception. You just might change your mind.