Tuesday, July 26, 2011

JK Rowling: I can't get through her books, but I love what she has to say about life

While I LOVED going to see all of the Harry Potter movies and saw them all as soon as they opened in theaters, I never could sit down and read through her all those books JK Rowling spewed out. I really loved her stories, but I guess I really just didn't love the way she told them. I couldn't connect with her fictional writing voice. However, I read/listened to some words of hers recently that really inspired me.

JK Rowling delivered the commencement address to the Harvard graduating class of 2008. I can't remember how but recently I stumbled upon a quote from that address that I liked and I decided to find the full text. At the Harvard Magazine's website I found the full text with a video recording. I listened to the video as I scrolled through the text and decided that I need to be friends with JK Rowling. (I don't know why she wouldn't oblige me, I'm pretty awesome.) I just really love what she said to those students. So elegant and humble and simple and honest, yet so inspiring.

The speech titled, The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination, had two connecting themes. She tells the story of her own rock bottom and conveys that while there is nothing glamorous about poverty, being in the position of having failed by every measurable standard has the ability to free one's self. Having belly flopped in life that horribly, one can pursue their passion with nothing left to lose, and in doing so, discover the will to succeed on your own steam that they truly never could have otherwise discovered. She relates the social importance of imagination. Not just for the purpose of creating art or fiction, but for bettering the world. She brought up a good point, that kind of helped reinforce to me the difference between empathy and sympathy. To sum it up, she said that imagination is what gives us the power to sympathize when our different experiences prevent us from empathizing. She told about how, in her 20's, she worked for Amnesty International, where the social importance of imagination was truly impressed upon her heart. Organizations like Amnesty International exist because of the power of sympathy. Imagining what it must be like to suffer as another, imagining help and possibly a different future for people in other circumstances, and being motivated by that imagination to help realize those sympathetic dreams.

JK Rowling had such a powerful message that day and I'm so grateful that I live in this digital age where gems like that are just a thirty second google search away. If you don't feel like reading the whole address (here) then at least my favorite quotes from it:

"I quite agree with them that [poverty] is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools."

"I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun....
                        ...any light at the end of [the tunnel] was a hope rather than a reality."

"And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. "

"Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes."

About Amnesty International
"Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet." 


"those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy."

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

Don't you just love her?!

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