Worth the risk? The Courage of Neville Longbottom

‘You can’t go out,’ said Neville, ‘you’ll be caught again. Gryffindor will be in even more trouble.’
‘You don’t understand,’ said Harry, ‘this is important.’
But Neville was clearly steeling himself to do something desperate.
‘I won’t let you do it,’ he said, hurrying to stand in front of the portrait hole. ‘I’ll – I’ll fight you!’
Neville,’ Ron exploded, ‘get away from that hole and don’t be an idiot –’
‘Don’t you call me an idiot!’ said Neville. ‘I don’t think you should be breaking any more rules! And you were the one who told me to stand up to people!’
‘Yes, but not to us,’ said Ron in exasperation. ‘Neville, you don’t know what you’re doing.’
He took a step forward and Neville dropped Trevor the toad, who leapt out of sight.
‘Go on then, try and hit me!’ said Neville, raising his fists. ‘I’m ready!’

‘Neville,’ Hermione said. ‘I’m really, really sorry about this.’
She raised her wand. ‘Petrificus Totalus!‘ – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 16

It’s been a long time friends. But I’ve returned to continue my quest through the Harry Potter Series. I think I started this about six months ago and I’m still not done blogging about The Philosopher’s Stone. But it ends tonight.  1 down, 6 to go.

This post is rather timely. My friend and I recently agreed to challenge each other to risk one thing every day.  I wouldn’t call myself much of a risk taker.  I love adventures, but I can easily be talked out it if I consider the risk for too long.  In essence I am too conscientious and I think too much. And also, I’m a hobbit.

So for the past week I’ve been trying different areas of risk, some academic, some relational, some related to my physical health. With the idea that the more you get used to the anxious, “fight or flight” reaction associated with taking a risk, the more comfortable you will be. I still get nervous, but now I’m so committed that its kind of fun.

So I chose this scene from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for a couple of reasons.  It would be easy to look at Neville’s seemingly small active of bravery as being pointless and wasted. After all, he only gets to put up his dukes and tell his friends “you can’t go out there”, when Hermione easily applies the full body bind curse leaving him frozen on the floor.  Nice job Neville.

But it goes deeper than that.  It wasn’t a small act of bravery at all. Neville, the boy whose parents are locked up in a mental hospital after being nearly tortured to death, who has few friends, save the trio, who is quiet, awkward, and seriously lacking in confidence, had the courage to stand up to his much more confident, strong and popular friends. For an eleven year old boy that’s a big risk.  Heck, even for an adult its a big risk.  Having the courage to stand up to your closest friends when you think they are doing something they shouldn’t is one of the biggest interpersonal risks I can think of.  Dumbledore agrees.

‘There are all kinds of courage,’ said Dumbledore, smiling. ‘It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 17

Sigh, if we only lived in a magical world where you could always count on random and completely arbitrary point changes from Professor Dumbledore to save the day. But even without that, there was  second reason why Neville’s act was important.  His attempt to stop his friends may not have gone very well , but this one act was the start of the maturation process for an 11 year old boy.  Six years later, Neville will step up at a time when no one else could, to help take down the biggest enemies they have ever known. When his brave, bold, risk taking (and sometimes wreckless friend Harry Potter was erm, significantly wounded, Neville saved the day.

And perhaps the same is true for us. I’ve taken a few risks that seemed to fall completely flat.  Showing up by myself at events by myself in hopes of meeting people, only to have a miserable time, making major financial and time investments to apply to grad school, only to end up one step short of my goal (the next year went much better :), telling the boy who completely held my heart exactly what he meant to me, and not getting anything in return.  They could all feel like complete failures. But they don’t. As someone who has always been a touch timid, I have no doubt that each and every risk, while not always immediately productive, has helped to shape me into a more adventurous woman.

So here’s to taking a leap, diving in with both feet, or maybe just tiptoeing out your hobbit hole. Whatever it takes, here’s to being risk takers. If Neville can do it, we can too.

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