Very good lives the frin.., p.3
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       Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, p.3

           J. K. Rowling
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  spokenness against his country’s

  regime, his mother had been seized

  and executed.


  Every day of my working week in

  my early twenties, I was reminded

  how incredibly fortunate I was to

  live in a country with a democrat-

  ically elected government, where le-

  gal representation and a public tri-

  al were the rights of everyone.

  Every day, I saw more evidence of

  the evils humankind will inflict on

  their fellow humans to gain or

  maintain power. I began to have

  nightmares, literal nightmares, about

  some of the things I saw, heard, and


  And yet I also learned more about human

  goodness at Amnesty International than

  I had ever known before.

  Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people

  who have never been tortured or im-

  prisoned for their beliefs to act on be-

  half of those who have. The power of

  human empathy leading to collective ac-

  tion saves lives and frees prisoners. Ordi-

  nary people, whose personal well-being

  and security are assured, join togeth-

  er in huge numbers to save people they

  do not know and will never meet. My

  small participation in that process was

  one of the most humbling and inspiring

  experiences of my life.









  Unlike any other creature on

  this planet, human beings can learn

  and understand without having

  experienced. They can think them-

  selves into other people’s places.

  Of course, this is a power, like

  my brand of fictional magic, that is

  morally neutral. One might use such

  an ability to manipulate or control

  just as much as to understand or







  And many prefer not to exercise

  their imaginations at all. They choose

  to remain comfortably within the

  bounds of their own experience,

  never troubling to wonder how it

  would feel to have been born other

  than they are. They can refuse to hear

  screams or to peer inside cages; they

  can close their minds and hearts to

  any suffering that does not touch

  them personally; they can refuse to


  I might be tempted to envy people

  who can live that way, except that I

  do not think they have any fewer

  nightmares than I do. Choosing to

  live in narrow spaces leads to a form

  of mental agoraphobia, and that brings

  its own terrors. I think the willfully

  unimaginative see more monsters. They

  are often more afraid.

  What is more, those who choose

  not to empathize enable real monsters.

  For without ever committing an act of

  outright evil ourselves, we collude

  with it through our own apathy.

  One of the many things I learned

  at the end of that Classics corridor,

  down which I ventured at the age

  of eighteen in search of something

  I could not then define, was this,

  written by the Greek author Plu-

  tarch: “What we achieve inwardly

  will change outer reality.”

  That is an astonishing statement,

  and yet proven a thousand times

  every day of our lives. It expresses,

  in part, our inescapable connection

  with the outside world, the fact that

  we touch other people’s lives simply

  by existing.

  But how much more are you,

  Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to

  touch other people’s lives? Your

  intelligence, your capacity for hard

  work, the education you have earned

  and received, give you unique status

  and unique responsibilities. Even your

  nationality sets you apart. The great

  majority of you belong to the world’s

  only remaining superpower. The way

  you vote, the way you live, the way

  you protest, the pressure you bring

  to bear on your government, has

  an impact way beyond your borders.

  That is your privilege, and your bur-


  If you choose to use your status

  and influence to raise your voice on

  behalf of those who have no voice;

  if you choose to identify not only

  with the powerful but with the

  powerless; if you retain the ability

  to imagine yourself into the lives of

  those who do not have your advan-

  tages, then it will not only be your

  proud families who celebrate your

  existence but thousands and millions

  of people whose reality you have

  helped change. We do not need

  magic to transform our world; we

  carry all the power we need inside

  ourselves already: we have the power

  to imagine better.

  I am nearly finished. I have one

  last hope for you, which is some-

  thing that I already had at twenty-

  one. The friends with whom I sat

  on graduation day have been my

  friends for life. They are my

  children’s godparents, the people to

  whom I’ve been able to turn in

  times of real trouble, people who

  have been kind enough not to sue

  me when I took their names for

  Death Eaters. At our graduation we

  were bound by enormous affection,

  by our shared experience of a time

  that could never come again, and, of

  course, by the knowledge that we

  held certain photographic evidence

  that would be exceptionally valuable

  if any of us ran for prime minister.

  I wish

  you all




  So today, I wish you nothing

  better than similar friendships. And

  tomorrow, I hope that even if you

  remember not a single word of

  mine, you remember those of Sen-

  eca, another of those old Romans I

  met when I fled down the Classics

  corridor in retreat from career lad-

  ders, in search of ancient wisdom:

  “As is a tale, so is life: not how

  long it is, but how good it is, is

  what matters.”

  I wish you all very good lives.

  Thank you very much.

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