I was born a Ravenclaw, or so I told myself.
When Harry Potter came out, I was neck deep in academia, and had groomed myself to be there since before high school. When everyone started sorting themselves into houses, I naturally fell into the house of Ravenclaw, the house of “wit and learning.” They were the clever ones: the scientists and the engineers.
“…in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you’ve a ready mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind;”
– the Sorting Hat
It’s not just that I naturally fell into that house with my attraction to maths and sciences, I held the ideals in high esteem. Being clever, and witty, and well read were goals worth setting. I wanted to be that person, the kind to think themselves out of problems, and to make sharp and astute observations.
Also, I was surrounded by like-minded people: engineers, programmers, scientists, and skeptics. The vast majority threw themselves in with the Ravenclaws. A few, those fancying themselves heroes or preferring the more vibrant color scheme, took up the mantle of Gryffindor. Several others claimed membership in Slytherin, either claiming it was appropriate for entrepreneurs, or because it somehow validated being a shit to other people.
Quietly absent from my circles were Hufflepuffs. The couple that were around wore the name with shame or reluctance, which we collectively reinforced with ribbing, both gentle and otherwise.
To be fair, Hufflepuff is a hard sell. The name, for starters, isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Imagine Dumbledore bellowing out your house name as you win the house cup:
“Gryffindor!” sounds epic.
“Ravenclaw!” sounds noble.
“Slytherin!” sounds intimidating
“Hufflepuff!” sounds… well… It lacks a certain majesty.
Then, there’s the house animal.
Gryffindor has a lion, king of the beasts and one of the most charismatic of megafauna. Ravenclaw has an eagle soaring, majestic and a symbol of freedom and power. Slytherin gets a snake, not exactly sought after, but at least it’s respected and feared in equal measure. Hufflepuff gets a badger.
Perhaps in England, where both Rowling and badgers are endemic, the creature is more widely respected and understood. Here in North America, they just seem like zebra-striped fury weasels. Again, not exactly compelling.
These branding issues might be blamed for much of Hufflepuff being a distant fourth when self-sorting, but there was also the sense of Hufflepuff being the home of the leftovers. It’s where you went if you weren’t brave, clever, or ambitious.
That was wrong, though. I was wrong.
Hufflepuff is where you go if you are kind.
“You might belong in Hufflepuff
Where they are just and loyal,
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true,
And unafraid of toil”
-the Sorting Hat
When I really looked at the values that the Hufflepuffs espouse, it’s pretty hard to defend the superiority of any other house: justice, honesty, patience, hard work, kindness, inclusivity… Hufflepuff takes the misfits, yes, but isn’t that the right thing to do? Would I want to be part of a group that would turn them away?
What is the value of being a brave Gryffindor if your bravery is not in service of justice? Does it matter that you would wrestle a bear or dive into a burning building if it’s done for selfish reasons?
Where is the merit in ambition, if not tempered with compassion? We see the fault in that path through countless abuses in the pursuit of money.
What is the point of being clever, if you are not working hard to better the world with it? What does it matter if I am right, if I can’t use that knowledge to do some good?
There’s the rub: each of the other houses claim a virtue that is truly worth striving for: ambition, bravery, and intellect. However, only Hufflepuff puts any weight on being good. The other virtues, in absence of a strong sense of good, are paths to disaster.
I have no choice but to admit it, the Hufflepuffs are right, and there is nothing more important to a Ravenclaw than being right. So I must cede my house crest, take up the black and gold scarf, and learn to love the badger. But I find myself in better company.
I’m not the first person to make this leap from Ravenclaw. The internet is full of stories from people with similar experiences. Communities of skeptics, science communicators, and technophiles have seen rifts grow within them when a social issue forces them to decide between being right, and doing right. Those who care enough to speak out and take action in aid of others are so often pushed to the margins so that the true Ravenclaws can continue to pontificate and quibble over minutia.
If ever pressed, I hope that I would choose compassion over cleverness.
In the end, I would rather be kind than correct.