There is no certainty in life, but you can make things more certain!

Urgent things may not be important but must be taken care of “urgently” such as the kettle boiling! But important things, though must be made more certain to be done on time, may not be urgent enough for one to drop everything, especially “urgent things” to do. “By-the-way” things are really not urgent and not important so that you will do this only if you have made certain that the important things and/or urgent things that you are supposed to do are “made more certain” of happening!

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When I was studying for my G.C.E “A” levels in a small English town of South Shields, in the North East of England back in 1981/82 I asked my chemistry lecturer, Dr. Ian Chalmers this question, “Dr. Chalmers, how sure are you that this will not come out in our A levels examination?”

I learned very early on that in national examinations, adherence to the syllabus when setting examination questions was the standard practice and hence I studied only what was in the syllabus! Thus when Dr. Chalmers decided to skip a small part of the Chemistry syllabus, I was naturally anxious.

“Mr. Chow, in life, death and taxes are the only certainties!”, answered Dr. Chalmers smilingly. This was really eyes opening for me, back then as a 19-year-old.

Of course my ole lecturer was right, nothing is certain in life but you can do something to make it more certain! In our case, I guessed correctly that the bits that Chalmers missed would not be asked in the examination for some reasons and the only way I would be more certain to do well was to study harder, which I did and scored a respectable Grade B!

It is important to distinguish something that is urgent,from those that are important and finally those that belong to the “by-the-way” category.

Around 1997, I was serving as a senior staff of a college in Klang. We had a collaboration with an independent Chinese school and were summoned by our director to meet him at his office in the business district of Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a 3 pm meeting on this collaboration. My team member JMJ whom I had instructed to get the college’s vehicle so that we could all carpool to KL was to be the driver. Traffic condition in KL of the late 1990s, due to the construction of the Twin Towers and monorail, was chaotic. I waited over an hour for JMJ to pick me up from my home in USJ en route to KL, a trip that would have taken just 35 minutes during off peak hours. By the time he picked me up and reached our director’s office, we were an hour late. JMJ, upon my questioning told me that he had to wait a long time for one of our colleagues somewhere in Klang who was just hitching a ride to KL with us! In this case JMJ did not think rationally, he did not know that his and my presence on time at a meeting with one of our “boss’s bosses” was both important and urgent and hence to be made “as certain as possible”. Instead, he concentrated on the “by-the-way” hitch hiker resulting in yours truly, as his superior, having to take the brunt of the rage from the director of the college.

So when my wife told me that she would send me to take the LRT to my usual weekly visit to my client at 10 am after her yoga class at around 9 am (or it could be 15 – 20 minutes later, she said) each Thursday, to be more certain of my reaching the client’s place as promised on time, I declined. I rather leave the house much earlier, at 8:15 am, walk 18 minutes to Taipan LRT station so that I would be more certain of reaching Kota Damansara via the Lembah Subang LRT station and feeder bus T807 before my appointment!

Thus, urgent things may not be important but must be taken care of “urgently” such as the kettle boiling! But important things, though must be made more certain to be done on time, may not be urgent enough for one to drop everything, especially “urgent things” to do. “By-the-way” things are really not urgent and not important so that you will only do this (such as giving a lift to a colleague en route to an important meeting) if you have made certain that the important things and/or urgent things that you are supposed to do are “made more certain” of happening. Quite a mouthful, I must admit!

I hope after reading this, my readers are more able to classify tasks / things to do etc. into these three categories and treat them accordingly.

Life’s lessons learned from Harry Potter

What life’s lessons can you get from Harry Potter books? Read what a young fan, Potterhead got to say about this.

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Commentary about this article (revised –  Apr 19, 2018)

The author, Leland Chow was a junior reading Finance, minor in communication studies and economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when he wrote this piece. This article originated as an assignment for one of the author’s classes and is presented here for our readers’ enjoyment.

In late 2012 Leland Chow took the Malaysian Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) which is a national high school diploma equivalent examination that most Malaysian school leavers will take. My wife and I were very worried for Leland. Instead of burying himself with SPM study guides, textbooks etc., he was reading Harry Potter books during most of this month-long examination. We joked that if Harry Potter books are included in his examination, he would score grade A+ hands down. Leland simply smiled and told us that it (reading J.K, Rowling’s books) was his way of relaxing. He claimed that reading Harry Potter calmed his nerves as well. Well, Leland might have a point there. He did extremely well in his SPM to win a full scholarship at SEGi University. But after reading what he wrote, I think Leland gets more than just a calming of his nerves! I also learned two things from this piece, (i) Leland was a victim of bullying at high school (& wish I knew earlier to help him to tackle this),  and (ii) the meaning of a new term, “Potterheads”! ————–> Chow Yong Neng, PhD.


This was the third and final essay of my English: Rhetoric as Inquiry. My instructor, Ms. Maria Nazos has asked me to write an essay regarding a person or a group of people who I admire. Instead of choosing a real-life person or a group of real-life people, I decided to choose my favorite characters from my favorite childhood series, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. I utilized textual evidences from the book to support the characteristics of the three unlikely best friends. —————–> Leland Chow


He was an orphan as his parents were brutally murdered by a horrendous man. He lived with his maternal aunt and uncle since he was born. His aunt and uncle treated him as if he was their servant. He did not feel loved, happy, cared for. His cousin also did not help to the fact that he was literally neglected and bullied by his aunt and uncle, as his cousin was spoiled by his aunt and uncle, giving his cousin new gifts and toys, while he could only get hand-me-down, second-handed gifts and toys. His room was worse, as he literally lived in a small storage closet, barely enough to fit his small body. His life was basically miserable for the past 11 years, until a letter was written to him, telling him that he was accepted into a prestigious school, a magical school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

It was not until 2005 when I started noticing the world of Harry Potter. People usually read the books before watching the film. I, on the other hand, took notice of the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I really liked how magical it was, and immediately bought the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and watched it. I felt that Harry Potter was in a way, sad, but very inspiring to me. Then, I persuaded my parents to buy the three books that came after the first two films. I loved reading books as well, and hence I read the three books quite quickly. Suddenly, I realized that I was actually really enjoying all of the Harry Potter books and films, I was a Potterhead.


Harry Potter was created by a British author named J. K. Rowling, in a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. She used that name as she had no middle name, borrowing Kathleen as K. from her grandmother, and this made J. K. Rowling’s initial identity to be more anonymous. She wrote the first few ideas of Harry Potter on a napkin, and in later times, used a typewriter to type the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When she was writing, she usually wrote in cafes in Edinburgh, and her then baby daughter would be around with her (Farr). I found it to be quite ironic that J. K. Rowling got her ideas of Harry Potter in a train, as in her books, a platform in King’s Cross Station, Platform Nine and Three Quarters, is used as the platform for the official school train, Hogwarts Express, which is used to transport students to Hogwarts (Rowling, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, 87). This coincided her writing with her true experience in the train. Her way of writing this type of transportation used in all books of Harry Potter resembled a relation between the land of magic and the land without magic. It served as a bridge between the wizards and witches, and the normal non-magical people, the Muggles (Rowling, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, 53). A bridge whereby there were quite a few similarities between the magical world and the non-magical world, which was quite fascinating because to me, I would not have expected wizards and witches to use just the same mode of transportation: a train. Even though it may be a magical train, but still, it was the same type of transport, using a similar type of train tracks.

The younger me at that time read books pretty quickly, so in a month or two, I have already finished reading the three books, ranging from a thin Prisoner of Azkaban, to a very thick Order of the Phoenix. But, unlike now, where I take my time to read and understand carefully about the books, I was just reading and not understanding the plot of the books. Somewhat, this old habit of mine reflected on my personality that I did not understand deeply enough about the true nature of things. I was technically bullied at that age, but I did not know that I was bullied, nor did I know why I was being picked on. I was just too immature at that time to understand things from a different perspective.

Harry’s Love

Love was one of the themes in the Harry Potter book series, and it was evident in Harry himself. Unlike his nemesis, Voldemort, Harry Potter had been loved by his parents. He was born into a dangerous world, and was bullied by his aunt and uncle, but when he was in school, he was loved by his friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, Ron’s parents, the headmaster, Professor Albus Dumbledore, and even the deputy headmistress at that time, Professor Minerva McGonagall. Molly Weasley, Ron’s mother, in fact claimed that Harry can be her son, and even gave Harry her brother’s watch as Harry’s 17th birthday present (Rowling, “Order of Phoenix”, 90; “Deathly Hallows”, 114). Harry’s love for his friends was also evident when he saved them in the Chamber of Secrets, where he successfully slayed the Basilisk, a dangerous monster, faced many Dementors, which were soulless creatures, and as mentioned in the previous paragraphs, sacrificed himself for the safety of his friends (Rowling, “Order of Phoenix, 527; “Deathly Hallows”, 703).

If he did not love any of the people mentioned, I believe that he would not have sacrificed himself because the existence of love in him was one of the key reasons he did not join the evil side. The darkness that was present in the society was growing more than ever, but his love for everyone and vice versa kept him grounded. Voldemort utilized his followers as if they were his tools, and when his followers were useless or dead, he did not shed a single drop of tear, nor did he show any signs of remorse (Rowling, “Deathly Hallows”, 656). Harry, on the other hand, showed his emotions clearly. He was sad and cried for the death of his loved ones, even in the case of a death of a non-human creature, Dobby the elf! He manually dug a grave and engraved “Here lies Dobby, a free elf” on top of the gravestone (Rowling, “Deathly Hallows”, 478-481). Would Harry be less emotional, and worse, less likeable, if he cannot feel love? In my opinion, definitely! This is what sets Harry and Voldemort apart, as Harry understood the ability to love someone, while Voldemort, unfortunately, could not feel love, and did not love anyone, as he was born under a concoction of a love potion made by his mother for his father (“J. K. Rowling Web Chat”).

Hermione’s Logical Intelligence

Of course, the adventures of Harry Potter would not be as great if Harry was not accompanied by his friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Hermione Granger possessed a trait that many people would seem to admire and hate, all at the same time: logical intelligence. It was because of her logical intelligence that she solved the Potion Riddle to help Harry to defeat the professor who had Voldemort stuck at the back of his head (Rowling, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, 286). However, it was also because of that intelligence that Harry and Ron were not fond at her at first. She was described as a know-it-all, having read and studied every book in detail even before the semester has started (Rowling, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, 105). Her intelligence came from the fact that she was outspoken, and because of her outspokenness, the two boys did not like her (Jusino). She proved herself worthy though, and through her kindness towards everyone, she has won many people’s hearts, including Harry’s and Ron’s, and they eventually became good friends. To me, she has also won my heart, as she resembles me in some ways. I am considered an outspoken person. Because of this though, many people think that I am intelligent, especially when it comes to getting good grades in my exams. Unlike Hermione, however, I am the one who works hard, pay my fullest attention in classes, and try my best to get the grades I want. Unfortunately, when it comes to house chores and other life skills, I am the worst person to ask. I cannot cook, I cannot assemble a shelf properly, and I definitely cannot fix a car. Hence, Hermione possesses a trait that is somewhat relatable to me and I admire her because of this.

Soon, as I grew older, I started rereading the Harry Potter books. I now had four books, including Half-Blood Prince. I slowly began to understand more about the struggles Harry, Ron and Hermione faced in the books. I understood the pain the trio faced, especially Harry, after rereading those books. I have slowly started to change my habit of reading, preferring to read slowly and understand more about the plot development. At the same time, I started to realize that I was not very happy in life. I realized that I was being bullied, and I did not dare to tell my parents about it. I just kept everything to myself, like what Harry did by hiding his pain from Ron and Hermione.

Ron’s Humor and Maturity

Ron Weasley, Harry’s male best friend, on the other hand, was not as smart as Hermione, nor as skilled as Harry, but he had a trait that the both of them lack: His sense of humor. He was a character that provided some comic relief in the books, making sure that the books were not dark and sad at all times. At the beginning where Hermione was not on Ron’s good shoes, he kept on mocking her, saying that she was scary. When Harry and he were stuck in a plant and Hermione was freaking out, he questioned by shouting at her if she was a witch. He also joked that Harry had to get his Inner Eye tested during a class when Harry tried to read the tea leaves from Ron’s cup but failed miserably. When the fake Professor Moody Transfigured Malfoy into a ferret, Ron told Hermione to not say a word, as he was trying to remember that scene forever (Rowling, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, 172, 278; “Prisoner of Azkaban, 105; “Goblet of Fire”, 207). In the first two cases, although he was mean to Hermione, he was funny and in a way, was a joker to the other two of his friends. Rowling has said that the reason why Ron had a good sense of humor was because he was immature as well (Ferreol). He, however, became more mature where he came back to Harry and Hermione after leaving them. At the end, when he married Hermione and had kids, he said to his children that he’s extremely famous, prompting them to laugh, showing that he still had his sense of humor (Rowling, “Deathly Hallows”, 380, 759). In my opinion, Ron was one of those people that no one could hate, as he was hilarious in many situations. Rowling wrote such a contrasting character to accompany Harry and Hermione, but because of what she wrote, Ron was easily likeable by Harry Potter fans, or commonly known as Potterheads. He was the type of guy that every guy would want to be when dating with a girl, as he knew what to say to make the girls laugh.

When the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, I was delighted and requested my parents to buy the book for me. As it was quite expensive, they were initially reluctant to buy the book for me. After several plead from me though, they decided to buy for me as they knew I liked books. A few years after owning the last book, after many times of rereading, I finally realized that I had changed after reading Harry Potter, somewhat quite a lot. I learned to look things at a different perspective. When I realized I was being bullied at first, I kept on wondering why I was picked to be the victim, why other people would not be the victims. Then, I realized that maybe it was because of some misunderstanding with them, or they had a huge issue on me that even I did not realize.

The Trio’s Bravery

Harry, Ron, and Hermione, however, possessed one of the few traits that no one else in this real world could compare: Their immense bravery. Lord Voldemort tried to kill Harry many times after he killed Harry’s parents, including the night where his parents died, the time where he was fighting for his life in the Triwizard Tournament, and the time when he was a legal magical adult, facing Voldemort, and came to accept his apparent death (Rowling, “Sorcerer’s Stone”, 12; “Goblet of Fire”, 663; “Deathly Hallows”, 703). He was not alone, as Ron and Hermione bravely stood beside him in nearly all occasions, trying to help him to defeat Voldemort once and for all. They were not cowards, and they did not bother running away. Even until the end, the trio did not surrender, even though Harry sacrificed himself to his death. In fact, Harry knew that he had to do so because that was the only way to defeat Voldemort. He knew that a part of Voldemort’s soul was attached to him, and as long as he lives, Voldemort cannot be defeated. Ron and Hermione did not know about that, but when they found out about it, they were sad and continued fighting against Voldemort and his followers (Rowling, “Deathly Hallows”, 686, 731).  Harry chose to die, and not live, as if he chose to live, everything that has done for by his parents and everyone else he loved will be betrayed (Deyoung).

The trio’s bravery was the main reason why Potterheads, including me, admire him. In my opinion, bravery was something lost in the whole of Harry Potter book series. There were too many characters who were afraid of losing something, including losing Harry’s life. These characters then decided to stay silent and be passive in the general public, unlike Harry, Ron and Hermione. They were one of the only few who decided to take action against Voldemort. They were the one of the few who sought light against all the darkness. They were the ones who stood up against all evil, never giving up, and bravely assumed their roles that they must defeat Lord Voldemort in order to successfully vanquish the evil, and restoring peace in the world.

2012 was the year when the final film adaptation of Harry Potter was released. It was a bittersweet moment for my life as I realized that this was THE final film of Harry Potter. No more Harry, no more Ron, no more Hermione. Deathly Hallows Part 2 was very heartfelt as I finally got to see the truth, as read in the book. My life took a turn for the better after reading and watching the last book and film adaptation, respectively. I finally understood that people were still immature at that time when I was bullied, as when I was finally leaving high school, I was not bullied, but on the contrary, I had friends who I can count on. I finally got to experience true friendship from these great friends.


It was and still is surprising that a pure-blood, a half-blood and a Muggle-born could be good friends together. Harry, Ron and Hermione, from the Harry Potter series, have inspired many people to be brave, to be themselves, to fight against evil. I dare to admit and say that I am one of those people. I applaud Rowling for writing such a great series of books, timeless stories, and most of all, creating a magical world that many Muggles like me try to realize in the real world. I hope that everyone who reads Harry Potter could take something home after reading the series, because I have.


Works Cited

Deyoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. “Love Bears All Things: Thomas Aquinas, Harry Potter & The Virtue of Courage.” Virtual Library of Christian Philosophy. Calvin College. 12 Sept. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Farr, Emma-Victoria. “JK Rowling: 10 Facts about the Writer.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 27 Sept. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Ferreol, Yvette. “Rowling Reveals `Marriage’ to Harry Potter at Reading (Correct).” Bloomberg, 22 Oct. 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.

“J.K. Rowling Web Chat Transcript”. Bloomsbury. 30 July 2007. Web. 11 Nov. 2014. Transcript.

Jusino, Teresa. “Hermione Granger: Minority Geek Girl”. Potterpalooza on, 14 July. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.

Rowling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine, 2007. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2000. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2003. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 1999. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur. A. Levine, 1998. Print.


Below is the grading & comments from the author’s instructor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Grade: ___A_____Comments: Leland, well done! Your revisions all went in the right direction. It is great to see (after the Doyle essay) how truly athletic you are as a writer, slipping from one challenging essayistic form to the next. You have been a delight to have in my class. Please keep in touch if you need anything.

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