On the moral superiority of Hufflepuff House

"You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon...."

--Albus Dumbledore (Gryffindor) 
to Severus Snape (Slytherin),  
HPatDH, chapter  33



I think this video is hilarious.  And spot on.

I also think that Hufflepuff House is clearly the most noble of the four Hogwarts Houses.

(I say this as a Ravenclaw, myself.)

Poor Hufflepuff has an image problem.  It's clearly the catch-all house, the house of last resort.  When Harry Potter, on his way to Hogwarts for the first time, is seized by apprehension that he might not be deemed worthy of any house, he really hasn't anything to worry about, because there's a house for that.  It's Hufflepuff.

Unlike the other three Hogwarts houses, Hufflepuff doesn't really seem to have a defining virtue.  I mean, sure, there are virtues that are associated with Hufflepuff -- fairness, loyalty, kindness, and diligence -- but you don't get the impression that Hufflepuffs are assigned to that particular house because they excel in those traits.  Rather, they embrace those values because they are accessible to anyone, and Hufflepuff is the house that anyone might end up in.  If you're ambitious, or brave, or smart, you get sorted into Slytherin, or Gryffindor, or Ravenclaw.  If you're none of the above ... HUFFLEPUFF!

But I don't claim that Hufflepuff is the most noble house out of some naively democratic valorization of the common person for commonness's sake.   I'm far too much of an elitist to think something like that.  (We Ravenclaws are almost as bad a bunch of snobs as the Slytherins -- we just tend to discriminate on the basis of demonstrated ability rather than pedigree.)

My esteem for Hufflepuff, rather, is based on two things: (1) I don't believe that the virtues of Hufflepuff are accidental or a mere rhetorical attempt to elevate the dignity of a house with no clear identity, but that they really are part and parcel with the ethos of the house.  And (2) I don't believe that innate ability is the Sorting Hat's primary criterion.

Yes, the Sorting Hat takes innate ability into consideration when assigning students to houses, but it places greater weight on the student's values.  This is made explicit with the sorting of Harry, who has the drive to make it as a Slytherin, but begs the Hat not to send him to that house.  So he's placed in Gryffindor.  But that wasn't an exception to the rule, it's the Sorting Hat's M.O. 

This is why Hermione Granger, with the intellectual capacity to be a star Ravenclaw, is nevertheless sorted into Gryffindor, for which she had developed a preference before the sorting through the very Ravenclaw-esque behavior of researching the four houses.  The Hat honored her values over her abilities.  It's also why Neville Longbottom, an unremarkable student who seems at first blush an archetypical Hufflepuff in the Hufflepuff-as-catch-all-house sense, but who has a deep internal drive to live up to the legacy of his Auror parents, likewise ends up in Gryffindor, the house of the brave.

The fact that most people end up in the house that best matches their innate abilities is a simple function of human nature -- we tend to value most the traits that we ourselves possess.  The fact that I never really thought of athletic ability as that big of a deal has as much to do with my own lack of coordination as a well-defined hierarchy of human capacities.  If you had asked me at age eleven whether I thought it was more worthwhile to be brave or ambitious or smart or loyal -- yeah, I'd have been sorted into Ravenclaw as fast as Draco Malfoy was placed in Slytherin.

So I'm a Ravenclaw.  But I aspire to be a Hufflepuff when I grow up.

And by that, I mean more or less what Rabbi Abraham Heschel meant when he (reportedly) said, "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."

The universal accessibility of the Hufflepuff virtues does not make them inferior to the defining virtues of the other houses; quite the contrary.  Bravery and intelligence and yes, even ambition are valuable things and worth cultivating.  But fairness, loyalty, kindness and diligence?  Those aren't leftovers you claim if you're not good enough to be defined by some other characteristic.  They are at the heart of what it means to live a good life.  

Cleverness comes easily to me; alas, so does self-centeredness, which is the antithesis of the Hufflepuff virtues.  So I take no pride in my sorting.  But I do take hope in the fact that the Hufflepuff virtues are available to all, even those of us who are vulnerable to having our priorities distorted by an outsized estimation of our own gifts.  I don't think you can lie to the Sorting Hat as convincingly as you can lie to yourself, so I'm not sure where the Sorting Hat would put me today.  But I mean to live my life in such a way as to become, increasingly, the kind of person who would be placed in Hufflepuff House.

2 comments:

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Love.

Also? That video made me laugh out loud. But it's ok, because I'm alone. (That makes it ok, right?)

I did the same thing with deciding being athletic wasn't important, and that being smart was. Though fortunately I figured out rather early that being smart wasn't something I attained but something that just was, for certain people. Like being pretty. Or athletic, for that matter.

I'd like to aim toward Hufflepuff-ness, too.

Towering Ajax said...

Featherless...Biped...must...blog...more...often (and perhaps she will now that the semester is over?)

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