If the Harry Potter Book series wasn't enough , J.K. Rowlings address at the Harvard University Commencement, (where she received her honorary doctor of letters degree this year) definitely made me her fan. Her speech struck a chord deep down in my heart, and i'm convinced i am not the only one, because she got a long (two minutes to be precise) standing ovation. What really made her talk momentous was the fact that it was written straight from the heart, and out of her own personal experiences in life. It was titled "the fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination". Well i guess we've heard a lot of people talking about the curative and salubrious nature of FAILURE but somehow its a little difficult for me to embrace it as gracefully.....
Dont bash me up now. I know ,I know - "Those who want to bear the fruits of their action are but miserly" I have literally grown up with this adage from the Bhagavad Gita. Yet its quite a herculean task to translate it into actions....is'nt it?....working diligently without anticipating anything, least of all failure. However, i would say that the way Rowling puts it, is still a little more comforting.....now now... i dont mean to say that she is better than Lord Krishna and what he talks is all mythological jargon but it is, lets just say, not as stark. Coming back to her speech, she exemplifies with her own life the rewards that she got because she failed miserably on an epic scale.Here's a quote from her address- "Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies." Well i truly agree with her. Failure gives you a myriad things that success can never give you. For instance, it gives you a sense of gratitude and a power of appreciation for all that you have, and will acquire subsequently. Moreover some say, good people become good because they've come to wisdom through failure. So goodness is directly proportional to the amount of failure one braves in life..... or maybe the vice versa could be true as well. Confused?? This equation is a wee bit perplexing for me as well.
By the time you start analyzing whether you ever experienced the fecundity of failure, Rowling jumps on to the second topic 'the power of imagination'. Huh, what has imagination got to do with anything but storytelling.....thats what i thought. But what does Rowling think? She expounds a theory wherein imagination , in its most prodigious forms gives us the uniquely divine power of empathy. We can empathise with humans whose experiences we never share. I am not sure about other people, but as far as my memory goes this is one of the most beautiful metaphors ive heard in quite sometime now. Who could have thought imagination could be linked to something like empathy. It surely takes a genius to do so.
At this point however, one might ask 'so what if we acquire empathy?' My rationale would be that empathy is one of the greatest gifts endowed to mankind . Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places. There are some people who choose to be in their own confines , who have no altruistic motives in life. For such ignorance Rowling elaborates - "Those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy".
Well its already a laudable fact that such a long discourse wasn't soporific for a vast majority of people. Without being didactic, she managed to touch their hearts. Along with it, she attempted to galvanize the youth of today to do something for a better world, because we have the power to imagine better. And last but definitely not the least, she closed the address with a lovely quote from the Roman classics, which goes thus -
'As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters'.
I applaud her for it.