There’s a bit of Dursley in all of us

The release of the first Harry Potter book triggered a spate of articles on whether or not it is an evil influence. Setting aside the religious debate, one aspect of the book’s potential influence is its capacity to show us the Dursley in each of us.The Dursleys land the job of raising Harry. At the start of the first Harry Potter book they are described as people who consider themselves perfectly normal, who don’t hold with nonsense like the strange and mysterious, who have a secret that they fear will get out, and who pretend that the Potters, who are as unDursleyish as it is possible to be, don’t exist. And they certainly don’t want their darling boy Dudley mixing with a boy like that Harry. On first reading we recognise the Dursleys but certainly don’t regard ourselves as being like them.

Yet, we all have something of a Dursley in us. Most of the time, we regard ourselves as the benchmark of normality and check how far others deviate from us. We readily notice anything that is unDursleyish. If it’s not like me, then it must be suspect. Such is the irony of getting along with people!

Some beliefs that help with grappling with this dilemma are:

For things to change, first I must change.

It is futile to expect other people to change to become more like me. If I want to be more effective with people I have to be prepared to change what I am doing, even if only temporarily.

Seek first to understand.

Listening is impaired by our eagerness to make sure other people understand our point of view. Grasping where others are coming from will give us a basis for making greater progress with people.

Everyone does the best they know how at the time with the resources that they have available.

Even though what others do does not make any sense to us, it makes sense to them at the time. They are drawing on what they believe are their options. Those options may be limited. But it makes sense to them.

So it is futile to complain about how unDursleyish others are. To relate to the Potters of this world we need to build the flexibility to make shifts in our thinking. Otherwise we will miss out on much of life’s interpersonal magic!

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.