Puffs!

A week ago, I went to see Puffs, an off-Broadway homage to Harry Potter (but totally unofficial) that was filmed and shown on two nights in selected movie theaters. I am not a theater critic, and I’m certainly not a critic of plays that are filmed and then shown in movie theaters (though this does seem to be an art form–some creative camera work was involved in this one), so I’ll make my remarks from the perspective of a fan.

First, it was amusing to see how the writers bent over backward to avoid using copyrighted names, such as Hogwarts, which they referred to as an unnamed “School of Female Magic and Male Magic,” and Dumbledore, whom they always referred to simply as the headmaster. Other characters, like Cedric Diggory, were called by first name or last name, never both together. In many cases, it was clear that the writers were having fun exploiting the limitations–and, perhaps, gently ridiculing the idea of placing such restrictions on such household names.

The four houses were called Brave, Smart, Snake, and Puff, and the story focused on the Puffs, the house that has the least interaction with Mr. Potter in the canonical story, which meant that this house was the perfect vehicle for exploring the experience of a non-famous, non-chosen student who’s just trying to get through school with decent grades. The protagonist was Wayne, an American kid who ends up at the school by a series of unlikely events, probably fulfilling a fantasy of the writers themselves. I should point out here that the actors were all adults, which says a lot about the intended audience. I think the goals of this play were to make long-time Harry Potter nerds squeal with recognition at the inside jokes, to aim a little irreverence at a sacred cow (without becoming cynical or nasty, although some of the jokes were definitely for a “mature audience”), and to provide a bit of vindication for the Hufflepuffs. The childlike wonder of magic was not really a focus.

The play was only about 90 minutes long, and the seven books provided its organizational structure, so in this sense, it reminded me of a parodic play called Potted Potter that I saw a few years ago. (A lot of the humor came from the forced brevity, kind of like in the popular Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged.) The plot stuck to events that happen in the books, except in one (ultimately rather anticlimactic) plotline involving the Death-Eater mother of Wayne’s friend Megan. The play is best enjoyed as sketch comedy rather than as a full narrative arc, although it does have a climax: the Battle of Hogwarts, as seen from the Puff perspective. I don’t want to give away spoilers here in case the filmed version ever comes out on DVD, but I will say that the until-now underrated contribution of the Hufflepuffs in this battle, recently pointed out by J. K. Rowling (wait–am I allowed to say her name?), was given its due here. I thought there were some tonal infelicities in this last segment of the play (i.e. some stuff that was played for laughs that I didn’t think should have been), but the writers redeemed themselves with a heartwarming scene between Wayne and the headmaster, which in itself was a vindication (since in the books, it’s only Harry who gets to process things one-on-one with Dumbledore).

As a Hufflepuff, I enjoyed Puffs; I think I would have enjoyed it even if I were a Brave, a Smart, or a Snake. I also realized that I switched between past and present tense in this post. I hope you didn’t notice.

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my leadership role model

Today’s post is about a person who appears in the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel, so to start us off I thought I’d share something fun I discovered this morning. I am reading the Bible chronologically, and this morning my reading was 1 Samuel 4-8. Did you know that the names of two famous characters from 19th-century fiction appear in these chapters? They are Ichabod (as in Ichabod Crane, from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) and Ebenezer (as in Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol). I think these characters’ creators chose the names because they sound funny and quaint to modern English-speakers and may invoke a harsh brand of Protestantism, not, or not primarily, because of their Hebrew meanings: Ichabod means “inglorious” and was the name of a baby (poor little guy!) born just after the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the Philistines, and Ebenezer means “thus far has the LORD helped us” and was the name of a memorial stone set up to commemorate a victory against the Philistines.  (I have written a post about Ebenezer Scrooge’s association with memorial stones–I’m not sure if this was deliberate or unconscious on Dickens’s part.) Anyway, there’s your fun fact for the day.

Later in 1 Samuel, we meet the young man who will become Israel’s greatest king, David. Many of the people who appear in the pages of the Old Testament are roughly sketched and hard to relate to, but David is what we would call in literature a well-developed character. Not only from the historical accounts but also from the many psalms he wrote, we learn about David’s bold frankness, his concern for those under his care (first his father’s sheep, then the rebels who fought under him during his outlaw years, then finally his subjects and his many children), and his ardent love for God. David’s emotions are always near the surface in these accounts–he has a warm heart and, often, a hot head. As an F (feeling) on the Myers-Briggs scale, I can relate to David.

David made many mistakes, some ugly and inexcusable (murder by proxy, adultery, bad parenting). But the reason he’s my leadership role model is that, throughout his life, David remained teachable and open to correction. A prophet named Nathan keeps showing up in the accounts of David’s kingship, and nearly every time we see him, he’s calling out David for some sin. The fact that David not only tolerates but welcomes Nathan’s correction is amazing considering what David’s descendants, the increasingly bad kings, will do to prophets who tell them the truth (e.g. throw them in a pit, kill them). David could say, “I’m the king; I can do whatever I want!” Instead, he responds to Nathan’s truth-telling, not with a political “Hmm, I’ll consider that,” but with repentance, confessing his sin against God and immediately doing what he can to restore fellowship with God and the people he has wronged.

One of my greatest leadership fears is becoming the person who is too imperious or even just too sensitive to be corrected–the person everyone else is reluctant to confront. I don’t enjoy confrontation, but I’m thankful that I work with people who kindly tell me about things I need to do better, and I hope I will always have people like this.

Another thing I love about David is that once he’s confessed his sin, he doesn’t wallow in it. Once fellowship has been restored with God (see Psalm 51, a painful and beautiful expression of this process), David is able to move on with joy and confidence that he’s been forgiven. Of course, his actions have consequences, and he recognizes this and grieves the harm he’s done to others. But this is another necessary leadership quality: the ability to walk forward.

I’d love to hear about your leadership role models!

Monday miscellany

Here are some quick takes for your reading pleasure. Consider it professional development (after all, this is a leadership blog, right?).

  1. You know you have a serious problem when you start sorting the Corleone family into Hogwarts houses. I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when I was considering how to pitch a Hufflepuff leadership book idea to someone who seemed unfamiliar with Harry Potter but had used a Godfather analogy in his presentation. Then I went down a rabbit hole. I sorted Vito and his three sons (his blood sons; sorry, Tom Hagen–I think you’re a Muggle), and, conveniently, there’s one for each house. Michael, I knew immediately, is a Slytherin; he’s quiet and sneaky and always assumes his way is the right way. His dad, Vito, is also very intelligent but, generally speaking, using his genius for good; he’s a Ravenclaw. Sonny is a Gryffindor because he has a good heart but mistakenly believes he can solve everything with his fists. And I put Fredo in Hufflepuff because he just wants everybody to be happy. Obviously, I’m dealing in broad strokes here; I’m just making a fun comparison, not trying to say anything profound about either universe, so please don’t pick a fight with me about the oversimplified way I defined the houses.
  2. If you want a more perceptive analysis of what the houses mean, check out this post that our Slytherin correspondent shared with me over the weekend. Lots to think about here.
  3. I watched the first two Lord of the Rings movies over the weekend (extended version, of course), so I want to take a couple of minutes to wax eloquent about one of my favorite honorary Hufflepuffs, Samwise Gamgee. Yes, I guess Gryffindor could make an argument to claim him too (he’s brave and a little impulsive), but a Gryffindor’s not writing this post. 😉 And besides, Sam is the quintessence of loyalty. You really see it in The Two Towers when Sam and Frodo are following Gollum through the wilderness. About 95% percent of the time, Sam thinks Frodo is making bad choices (and Sam is right, I would add). And he says so. But he never leaves, and that’s not only or primarily because he agrees with the abstract cause of Frodo’s overall quest, but because he cares about Frodo. A truly loyal friend doesn’t stop being your friend because you’re making bad decisions; a truly loyal friend realizes that when you’re making bad decisions, you need a friend more than at any other time. Sam also functions as Frodo’s connection to reality. Even fairly early in the quest, Frodo needs Sam to tell him to do basic things like eating and sleeping. And as the journey goes on and the Ring’s increasing pull causes Frodo to fade out of the physical world and nearly become pure spirit, it’s almost as if Sam becomes Frodo’s body, fighting off Shelob and the orcs, and, in the end, carrying Frodo when he is powerless even to move. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ll know my life has truly been fulfilled if I can say that I’ve had and that I’ve been a friend like Samwise Gamgee.

Well, there you have it. Consider your professional development for this week done.

A soft heart does not equal a soft head.

Today I want to acknowledge and dispel a common misconception about Hufflepuffs: You know, the one about this being the house for people who weren’t smart enough to get into the other houses. You can see where the stereotype comes from; after all, our common room is the only one that you don’t have to solve a riddle or even remember a password to get into. But when you look at some of our alumni, like Newt Scamander and Cedric Diggory, the suggestion that Hufflepuff is a house full of incompetents becomes ridiculous. Even badgers are traditionally thought of as canny. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that instead of emphasizing the individual possession of intelligence, Hufflepuff focuses on the wisdom of groups (loyalty) and the application of one’s gifts (perseverance). Other qualities commonly associated with Hufflepuff, such as kindness and justice, make me think of a specific type of intelligence: emotional intelligence, which I’ve written about extensively on my blog (see this post and many others–just click on the “emotional intelligence” tag). Emotional intelligence, or EQ, involves understanding oneself and others and making wise decisions based on that understanding. And I hasten to add that EQ is not an exclusively Hufflepuff property; Ravenclaw Luna Lovegood is a wonderful exemplar of it.

Let’s look at an EQ principle that applies particularly to leadership*: A soft heart does not equal a soft head. Making decisions based on empathy is popularly associated with vague thinking. In fact, most people would probably consider the phrases “making an emotional decision” and “making an illogical decision” to be synonyms. But Hufflepuff leaders (and the many EQ theorists of the past several decades, beginning with Daniel Goleman) know that both rationality and emotion can be vehicles of wisdom. (Actually, much earlier thinkers knew this too–I have a quote taped to my laptop that’s attributed to Blaise Pascal, though I can’t vouch for the accuracy because I got it from the tag of a Celestial Seasonings teabag: “We know truth, not only by reason, but also by heart.”) We also know that having empathy for the people we lead does not mean having low standards or not caring what they do. After all, both mercy and justice are Hufflepuff qualities. Holding them in tension–leaning to one side or the other as the occasion demands, but striving to remain upright in the middle–is hard work (which Hufflepuffs aren’t afraid of, right?) that is well worth the effort. In fact, those of us who serve the God of the Bible will recognize justice and mercy as two of his attributes that are frequently associated in Scripture; e.g. Psalm 85:10: “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.”

So we can lead with love and still be savvy, have high standards, and hold people (and ourselves) to them.  I would love to hear stories about how you or a leader you know has done this!

*I should have made it clear earlier that I’m not using “leadership” as the businessy jargon term it’s often used as. For our purposes, leadership encompasses much more than being a CEO; it could mean being a mentor, a parent, or–as I often conceive of the role–a teacher.

guest post: “Slytherin will help you on your way to greatness”

Today, I’m pleased to be able to feature the work of our Slytherin correspondent, Andy Ford, who will be looking at the hallmark traits of the serpent house from a Christian perspective. Let him know what you think on Twitter: @Andy_Ford

Or perhaps in Slytherin,

You’ll make your real friends,

Those cunning folk use any means,

To achieve their ends.

Pride.

Ambition.

Cunning.

Can a person be both a believer in Christ and a Slytherin? Can a person balance Pride, Ambition, and Cunning with following Christ? I’m not sure. I’d like to think so. I’d like to be both, a Slytherin and a Christian. I’d like to be one unified person, rather than have two sides of myself warring with each other.

The first problem for the Christian Slytherin, at least on the surface, is that Pride, Ambition, and Cunning are all things to which the Christian must die. Pride is often condemned, Paul warns against selfish ambition and vain conceit, and the serpent in the Garden is described as cunning. The question, then, is: can a Christian exercise Pride, Ambition, and Cunning while maintaining his or her witness? To answer this question we must first define terms. For the purposes of this discussion, I will use the word “Pride” to mean the opposite of humility, I will use the word “Ambition” to mean “a strong desire to do something, typically requiring determination and hard work,” and I will use the word “Cunning” to mean “having or showing skills in achieving one’s ends by deceit or evasion.”

So first, Pride. Pride is and has long been considered sinful; ask Thomas Aquinas. But is there a difference between, for example, Lucifer’s pride in Ezekiel 28:17, and being a proud alumnus of Liberty University, or being proud of a child when he succeeds at something he cares about. Again, the Pride I am discussing is the opposite of humility. One of my Graduate School professors taught me that all sin is ultimately idolatry, and all idolatry is ultimately Pride. Which means that all sin is Pride and thus all Pride is sin. As believers, we are instructed to die to ourselves daily and that includes dying to our own Pride. However, for every command against in the Bible, there is a command to. In the case of Pride, we die to it to embrace what I would call holy confidence. We are told to approach the throne of Grace with confidence. Confidence that we will not be turned away. That confidence has nothing to do with our accomplishments but has everything to do with the character of God. Brennan Manning (who is always a Win) wrote that God’s fundamental attitude toward us is one of affection. This affection directly contradicts Pride, because it is not dependent upon our own actions. Regardless of how holy or unholy we think we are, God’s attitude does not change. There is nothing we can do to change God’s attitude toward us; we are loved. Period.

This raises the question of how a Christian can exhibit the Slytherin trait of Pride without contradicting his or her walk with God. The answer, I think, lies in the type of Pride discussed. A person can be proud to be part of Slytherin House without falling into the sin of Pride. This does not mean being ashamed of being a Slytherin, or making excuses for the Sorting Hat’s decision, but rather it means that one understands both the benefits and the weakness of the House.

Ambition raises a slightly different question, although one that still has its own complications. Ambition is frequently pointed to as the defining characteristic of dictators and tyrants, like the titular character in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but the Apostle Paul writes that we should do nothing out of selfish ambition, which implies that there is another type of Ambition that is not selfish, and I think that’s the type of Ambition Slytherin House should emphasize. Salazar’s personal desire for greatness aside, being a Slytherin is not about being the greatest ever for the sake of being better than anyone else. That way leads to Voldemort’s obsession with becoming the Master of Death. Instead, I think true Slytherin Ambition is about becoming the best version of one’s self for the sake of being better than one was. Hemingway wrote, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self,” and I think the same can be said for Ambition. True, Godly ambition is the desire to improve one’s self and the desire for continuous sanctification.

I’ll be honest, Cunning put me into a quandary. On the one hand, in the New King James Version of the Bible, the serpent in the Garden is described as Cunning. (The New International Version and the New American Standard Version both use “crafty,” while the King James Version uses “subtil.”) On the other hand, Jesus tells his disciples to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. As the symbol for Slytherin House is a serpent, I find this to be an interesting connection. So, which is it? Is Cunning evil or not? The problem is: Cunning implies deceit, deceit implies dishonesty, dishonesty implies lying, and lying is a sin. By telling his disciples to be as wise as serpents, is Jesus instructing his disciples to get what they want through deception? Obviously not. I think the proper, Godly use of cunning is in a sort of “it takes one to know one” sort of a way. The context of Jesus’ words is: he’s sending his disciples out into the world to spread his message, and he’s instructing them on how best to keep themselves safe. One of my all time favorite movies is Gone Baby Gone, and the film opens with the main character, Patrick Kenzie, discussing this exact question: “When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to his children. ‘You were sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.’” I think Jesus meant: you are about to enter a fallen world, be aware of how people will try to take advantage of you and do not let them. But, and this is the “innocent as doves” part, do not do anything that would compromise your witness. Do not be taken advantage of, but in your attempt to avoid being taken advantage of, do not take advantage of someone else.

Neither Pride, nor Ambition, nor Cunning is necessarily evil in its own right. They are simply traits, like having red hair or blue eyes. The question is: how will the person who possesses those traits make use of them? And that depends, in large part, on the character of the person. This is the important part. A person’s sorting says what traits they possess and says absolutely nothing else about the type of person sorted. The Sorting Hat makes no character pronouncements. There are evil Slytherins, absolutely. But there are also good Slytherins (not naming names; I’ve been in that fight before, and it’s not worth it). The point is: Slytherin is not necessarily “the Evil House of Evil.” It does seem to have a uniquely dangerous combination of virtues, especially when compared to the Integrity and Hard Work of Hufflepuff and the Intelligence and Creativity of Ravenclaw, but having traits that are perceived as negative is not the same thing as being evil. A person can balance all three while remaining a good person. The goal, I think, of being a member of any organization is to identify both the strengths and weaknesses of that organization and embrace both, making use of its strengths and avoiding its weaknesses. As Harry tells Albus Severus in the final scene of Deathly Hallows, it does not matter into which House a person is sorted as long as the person does their best and strives to be a good person. For a Christian, as long as he or she is open to the correction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, God will mold them into the type of person God wants them to be.

Hufflepuff Leadership: a bit more explanation

Based on the copious positive feedback I received on last week’s post, I plan to move forward with the Hufflepuff Leadership project, but as you can see, I haven’t taken any steps yet toward changing the look of the blog.  I did receive an offer of free design work that I’m definitely going to take up, and I have an idea about the cover illustration.  I thought it would be fun to find a picture of a badger (the Hufflepuff mascot) in a business suit, and of course, this made me think about Badger from The Wind in the Willows.  I’ll probably need to check copyright/fair use issues if I’m going to use the picture as part of my brand, but just for this post, I think it’s probably okay to show you this example that I found on someone’s Pinterest: Wind in the WillowsOkay, it’s not exactly a business suit he’s wearing, but Mr. Badger definitely appears to be in a leadership role in this picture, wouldn’t you say?

As I mentioned last week, I’m thinking of writing from the perspective of a Hufflepuff prefect.  It just so happens (I’m about to get weirdly confessional here) that I have invented what amounts to a Mary Sue character (a character in fan fiction who is essentially the author inserting him/herself into the story) named Rebecca (my middle name), or Becky, Weasley (she’s married to Charlie!), who is a Hufflepuff alum and former prefect.  I also made up a Weasley nephew named Patrick who is a current Hufflepuff prefect.  I don’t know if I’ll use these characters extensively because I’m a little embarrassed about disclosing the extent to which my unwritten fan fiction has gone, but now that I’ve introduced them to the world, I guess they’ll at least have to make occasional appearances.

I’ll probably kick off the new project with a series of posts about the basic principles of Hufflepuff leadership.  I’ve already thought of clever aphorisms to express a couple of these, such as “A soft heart does not equal a soft head.”  I’ll illustrate these principles with my own experience, research on emotional intelligence and other concepts from various fields, conversations with colleagues, and of course, Hufflepuff students and graduates from the Harry Potter canon.  Also, based on responses from last week, it sounds like I have a good team of writers who can give us the Griffyndor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin perspectives on these issues as well.

I also mentioned last week that not all posts from here on out will necessarily be directly focused on the theme.  For example, this past weekend, I attended the Southeastern Writing Center Association conference, and I deliberately chose sessions on concepts that I could see myself writing about on this blog: vulnerability, burnout, mentoring–topics from the non-cognitive side of tutoring.  From time to time, I will report on events like these (as well as books I’m reading, movies I’ve seen, etc.) and may not necessarily use the language of Hufflepuff leadership, but I won’t stray far away from topics my regular readers will be interested in.

As always, let me know what you think!

 

Hufflepuff Leadership: a blog idea

I’m thinking of rebranding my blog. Before I explain why, I’ll briefly explain the blog’s history for those of you who haven’t been with me from the beginning.

I started penelopeclearwater.wordpress.com in December 2011 so that I could get two free books. A friend had told me about an opportunity to receive the books for free in exchange for reviewing them on my blog. I didn’t have a blog, but there’s a lot that I’d be willing to do for free books, so I started one. (I posted the book review in January 2012.) As you will see if you read my inaugural post, I had fairly high aspirations for the blog (I wanted it to be “a place where thoughtful inquiry and the magic of words can thrive”), but I never had a specific theme in mind. For the past 6+ years, I’ve kept that tradition alive, posting about whatever I felt like posting about. In that inaugural post, I also explained the reasoning behind the blog’s name–and its subtitle, which is the motto of Ravenclaw House–and while my original ideas about the title still apply, I’ve come to identify with Hufflepuff more than Ravenclaw (a journey I’ve documented well here on the blog, in a number of existential-crisis posts). In the beginning, I sometimes used “Penelope Clearwater” as a narrative persona; I rarely do so now.

Recently, some observations and conversations have gotten me rethinking the goal of the blog and how I want to represent that goal. Let me first make clear that I have no intention of quitting my day job in order to become a professional blogger. This is a hobby. Nevertheless, hobbies can be approached with purpose just like jobs can. One way I’ve been approaching my blog with greater purpose over the past year and a half is to post weekly, with few exceptions, generally on Mondays. I’ve also linked the blog to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, garnering a larger readership, even if it consists mostly of people I know personally.

I’ve also noticed that most other people’s blogs–at least the popular ones–have a specific theme. I’ve observed that when I categorize my posts with certain keywords–especially “travel”–I get more likes and follows from the WordPress community than when I use other keywords (and certainly more than before I started using categories and tags). This phenomenon was confirmed by a successful blogger I know. Another friend helped me to nuance this idea by noting that while the blogs she follows do tend to have a specific theme (cooking, design, books, etc.), some of her favorite posts are the ones in which the bloggers depart from their ostensible topics and show a slice of their lives and/or make observations outside their chosen fields. This reassured me that committing to a narrower focus may not be as restrictive as I had feared.

Also, when my dad’s guest post from this past Friday sparked immediate attention and elicited articulate comments from some of my Facebook friends, I again got the message that people are looking for ideas to engage with and not just the kooky ramblings of my mind.

All of this led me to the conclusion that it might be time to refocus and rebrand my blog.  But I didn’t know what to focus it on until one recent morning when I was thinking about some recent conversations I’d had with a work colleague. The idea came to me that someone should write a book (or a blog–or both) about how to lead like a Hufflepuff–a person who is probably not a natural or comfortable leader. I thought it would be fun to write in the persona of a Hufflepuff prefect and offer advice, from my own and others’ experience, about leading with the qualities valued by our house. And I realized that a number of my existing posts would fit into this theme with very little tweaking.

Next week, I’ll expand on this idea, but for now, what do you think? Would you read a blog about Hufflepuff leadership, keeping in mind that not every post would be explicitly on that theme?