I thanked the woman for her help, but of greater importance, I expressed my gratitude for the fact that she’d had the courage to offer assistance. Yes, courage. Why courage, you ask? This woman had taken a chance. She had no idea how her good intentions would be received, but she offered anyway.
Voldemorte: There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it.
That statement stood out for me when I first read the book. It intrigued me, and it would pop into my mind every now and then over the years. For a long time, I wasn’t sure whether I agreed or not. Now I’m thinking that, like most things, it’s truth depends on who you are, on your viewpoint.
I really think Voldemorte believed it, that it wasn’t about being evil; it was about exercising his power. As a child, he had no power to control his family situation. He had no control over what happened to him. But as he grew, he realized that he did have power over other people; he could make them afraid. Heady stuff, the ability to instill fear.
The people in that mindset may not believe they’re evil; they may believe that it’s their right to treat people abominably (see: slavery, Hitler, Attila the Hun, Vlad the Impaler…). I don’t remember Voldemorte inflicting pain for its own sake, for his own amusement. His actions always had a purpose. Often it was to ensure that his enemies and followers knew that he was to be feared, that he was in control. In his mind, to eliminate an enemy or a threat or even a nuisance was his right, and even a necessity. If your house is infested with ants or mice or flies, you don’t eliminate them because you’re evil. You eliminate them because you are more powerful than they are, because it’s necessary to do so for your own comfort and well-being. Voldemorte saw his enemies, and even his followers, as nothing more than ants or tools. He wholeheartedly believed in his superiority and every other being’s expendability.
I had already decided to post this quote when Girl on the Contrary got me thinking about Bellatrix Lestrange. This character would inflict pain for her own entertainment; she enjoys being mean and nasty. Some people simply get a kick out of kicking others. There is a certain amount of power in being able to push people around without the fear of recourse or consequence, but I don’t believe that achieving power is her motivation. If that were so, she could have killed Voldemorte a long time ago and taken over. She doesn’t, because that’s not her personality. Her comfort zone is to serve under a master who allows her the safety and freedom to be a bad person. He is both her permission to be evil, and her guarantee (through his power) that there will be no consequences.
It scary to imagine a world without consequences. Personally, I believe that more of us would go bad than we probably think. Post-apocalyptic movies and books often rely on the battles between the “good” and “bad” bands of survivors to drive the action, and that’s not based on nothing. In real life, we need look no further than the comment sections on YouTube to see the truth of how cruel and ugly people are comfortable allowing themselves to be when there are no consequences. Anonymity creates an environment where you can unleash your inner nastiness without having to see the damage it does, and without the recourse of guilt. The same thing happens when people riot or loot. People who loot on their own are called thieves. But people, who wouldn’t otherwise smash a window and steal, find safety in numbers. They allow themselves to do “evil” things when they think they can safely get away with it.
I believe that there is more power in constraint and self-control.
So, I do believe that there is good and evil. I believe we have both tendencies inside us, and we have the power to choose which side of that fence we walk on. I do not believe that power equals stepping all over everyone else; I disagree with Voldemorte there. In fact, I would argue that the power of good is stronger and more reliable than the power of evil. Voldemorte’s power relied on other people, on whether they could be manipulated or controlled or eliminated. No matter how vile he was, there would be certain people over whom he could never have power. That made his brand of power weak, because it was not entirely within his control (look how many times he was thwarted). Harry Potter’s power was inside him. It was the power of sacrifice and commitment, friendship and love. And it was the power of courage. Harry didn’t need to rely on anyone else to access those things from inside himself.