Wednesday, April 28, 2010

J.K. Rowling - The Power of Human Empathy, Leading to Collective Action, Saves Lives, and Frees Prisoners

author of the best-selling 
Harry Potter book series,
delivers her
Commencement Address, 
June 5, 2008

at the

Harvard Magazine, Harvard University Video 
Belief excerpts from the Text as delivered. Video 200,761
Copyright of JK Rowling, June 2008

…Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not,

…it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs… in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

…I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of
totalitarian regimes
by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the
 outside world of what was happening to them.

…I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the
temerity to speak against their governments.

…Every day, I saw more evidence about 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 read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at 
Amnesty International 
than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The 
power of human empathy
leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. 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. 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, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.

… One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

...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 know.

...Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of 
mental agoraphobia
and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. 
They are often more afraid.
What is more, 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.

...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 advantages, 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 change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. 

… 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.

at the 
Copyright of JK Rowling, June 2008
Read complete address Video - June 5, 2008

J.K. Rowling Urges Harvard Grads to "Imagine Better" 

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