Accepting the Consequences

Another important moral principle to consider is that we must be willing to accept the consequences of our mistakes. We will all eventually make poor moral choices, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, sometimes with the best of motives and sometimes not. A major difference between a moral and immoral person is not that one never makes a poor choice and the other does, but that the moral person will always accept the consequences of his actions, even when he considers the actions justifiable. This principle is something that adults should understand well, but children often do not understand it and complain about their punishment even when the punishment is justified. Any book that we would consider good for children to read should make this principle clear.

In The Sorcerer's Stone, Harry, Ron and Hermione agree to help Hagrid get rid of the baby dragon that Hagrid has been raising. Hagrid never should have had the dragon in the first place, but his obsession with magical creatures sometimes overcomes good sense. He has drawn Harry and his friends into his little secret, and they are now trapped in a dilemma. If they go to the teachers and let them in on what Hagrid has done, the dragon will probably be destroyed and Hagrid might lose his job. If they don't do anything, the dragon could be a danger to Hagrid and the students of Hogwarts. But, trying to smuggle a live baby dragon out of Hogwarts is going to mean violating the rules. Yet, they decide to let their friendship override and agree to help. In the process, they get caught outside their rooms at night and have to face the consequences.

This time there is no excuse. Harry's earlier actions can be justified on the grounds he was acting for good moral purposes. Trying to claim they were just sneaking a baby dragon off the grounds so that Hagrid wouldn't get in trouble isn't going to work. This time they have to accept the punishment without exception.

Even worse, because of the infraction, Harry's house is penalized severely in the house cup competition. It's not just Harry who suffers this time. All of his fellow students get punished indirectly. That's a good lesson to learn. It is not just ourselves that we have to worry about. We have to also worry about how our actions are going to affect others.

Getting caught and having to face the consequences does cause Harry to stop and think. And, he changes his attitude. For the rest of the year he avoids violating the school rules.

It was a bit late to repair the damage, but Harry swore to himself not to meddle in things that weren't his business from now on. He'd had it with sneaking around and spying. He felt so ashamed of himself that he went to Wood and offered to resign from the Quidditch team.

Harry's attitude is one of remorse. It's not just the embarrassment of getting caught, and the fact that he is now treated badly by most of his fellow students. Harry has betrayed the trust of others, especially his fellow students.

Of course, this won't be the last time Harry goes out sneaking around, despite his intentions to play it safe from now on. There will be many times in the years to come when he has to go back to spying to find answers. This is part of growing up, too. Not every situation is one where we can ignore the rules. It takes a mature wisdom to understand the difference.

The important point in this episode is that Harry shows remorse. Later on, Hagrid also grieves that his carelessness led to a chain of events that nearly got Harry killed and nearly allowed Voldemort to return to power. We see remorse in Dumbledore as well when he admits that he has held knowledge back from Harry and when his own ego and desire causes him to be cursed by a Horcrux. That type of remorse is a sign of a moral conscience.

In contrast, remorse is something that Voldemort completely lacks. After killing Snape, "he turned away; there was no sadness in him, no remorse." Voldemort cannot comprehend that his actions are wrong, cannot have remorse, and so continues down the same path to destruction. Everything that goes wrong he considers someone else's failing and consequently keeps killing his own associates, weakening himself in the process.

We all make mistakes. That is an unfortunate reality of the human condition. What is important to realize is that mistakes can teach us things, but only if we are willing to accept the consequences of our mistakes. Hardening the heart against remorse in order to protect the ego only leads us to further mistakes.


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