As I reflect on many of the tensions we are all experiencing right now, it strikes me that the value of politeness is the thread that runs through it all. Especially for those of us who are Christians, politeness can often seem like the goal of it all.
I value being polite when possible and beneficial. There’s a moment when the great theologian Albus Dumbledore shows how to harness strength and resistance wisely, even in the face of enemies. In J.K. Rowling’s Half-Blood Prince, we find the following exchange:
“Good evening, Amycus,” said Dumbledore calmly, as though welcoming the man to a tea party. “And you’ve brought Alecto too. . . . Charming . . .” The woman gave an angry little titter. “Think your little jokes’ll help you on your deathbed then?” she jeered. “Jokes? No, no, these are manners,” replied Dumbledore.
Dumbledore can profoundly incorporate manners even in the midst of conflict. Yet one of JKR’s most fascinating characters—Dolores Umbridge—is known for being polite in all things… annoyingly polite. Yet she’s also one of the evilest and despised characters in the Harry Potter series. A look at how these two characters use manners captures the confusion we may have on this topic. Some politeness is good, yet it can also mask the presence of evil.(more…)