Aggression, well-being and social success in Harry Potter


Discussing the benefits of aggression to social adaptation, Bukowski and Abecassis use Harry Potter as an example (“a highly popular character who is not free of aggressive acts” (p.204)). They write:

“…one does not need to turn to the ideas of social scientists to find ways of understanding how aggression and adaptation are interrelated. Instead, sometimes one can turn to the list of “best-sellers” to find stories that enlighten. Of all the stories ever told about a young person, few have captured a world-wide audience as thoroughly as the story of Harry Potter…. Millions and millions of readers, many of them young and all young at heart, have followed the adventures of the bespectacled English early-adolescent as he has made his way through life in his school. …Over time… most… have come to see the story about Harry as a parable about friendship, goodness, and the process of growing up in the company of one’s peers. By nearly any definition, Harry is competent, if not extra-competent. He is well-liked, helpful, appropriately competitive, clever, smart, engaging, funny, loyal, sociable, and, yes, at times, a bit aggressive (at least by some definitions). He revels in the warmth of the active, chaotic, and dynamic energy of the Weasley home, his adoptive family. At school, Harry is willing to fight for the good when circumstances call for it. His aggression is regulated and serves functions that most people would regard as acceptable. … Harry is not excessive, self-centered, or indiscriminately harmful. Harry uses aggression as a means of self assertion to achieve goodness when all else has failed. These moments of aggression are not antithetical to the many traditionally positive features we all see in Harry. Instead, they complement them. No one objects when he stands up, even aggressively, to the dreaded and nasty … members of Slytherin, or to Voldemort. … Harry’s readers are with him as they wait, anxiously, for the anticipated moment of his fateful face-to-face encounter with Snape, and, of course, with the extra-evil and horrid Voldemort. Will Harry be aggressive, or even destructive, when these moments arrive? We don’t know yet, but many of us, in our least-pretentious moments, probably hope so and we wouldn’t blame him if he were.” (pp.204-205)

(What did Voldemort do that we felt violence justified?)

“…to some degree, self-assertion and competitiveness are necessary for adaptation, as they promote one’s ability to achieve personal goals. Perhaps by definition, however, acts of aggression contradict one’s capacity to function with others.Insofar as aggression has been often defined as intent to harm, being aggressive means that one is acting against others. …We propose that individuals who do not assert themselves are at risk for being taken advantage of by others and they fail to garner critical resources. Persons who engage in self-assertion to the point of hurting others, however, not only disrupt group functioning but, in doing so, they deny themselves opportunities for basic forms of human relationship. …Although aggression should be discouraged in many cases, at some times it may be an adaptive or even necessary response.” (p.205)

Ref: William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis (2007) self, other, and aggression: the never-ending search for the roots of adaptation. Pp.185-205 in Aggression and Adaptation. The bright side to bad behaviour. Harley, P, Little T, Rodkin P. LEA Publishers London


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