Chieko Tagami’s Weblog

The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

with 2 comments

Asuka village by Mitsumasa Anno

Asuka village by Mitsumasa Anno

Recently I was deeply moved by the commencement address at Harvard delivered by J.K.Rowling, the author of Harry Potter.  It was about “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination”. 


She said that failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.  She stopped pretending that she was anything other than what she was, and began to direct all her energy into finishing the only work that mattered to her.


“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.  You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity.  Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.”


“Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement.  Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two.  Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”


Furthermore, Rowling talked about the importance of imagination in relation with the power of human empathy.  She introduced her experience at Amnesty International in London.  Every day, she saw, heard and read more evidence about the evils humankind would inflict on their fellow humans.  However, she also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than she had ever known before.  It may be long, but I would like to cite again some part of her beautiful speech below.


“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 minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.”


“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.”


“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 can lead 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 may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.”


Here is the link to Rowling’s commencement speech.


I used to be a volunteer of Amnesty International in Tokyo.  Amnesty Tokyo raises fund with greeting cards designed by a popular Japanese painter Mitsumasa Anno.  They used to sell T-shirts and cards designed especially for Amnesty by Pablo Picasso, too.  In my next blog, I would like to talk about my journey from the time when I was working there until when I finally decided to become an artist.


Written by chiekot

August 18, 2008 at 6:52 pm

2 Responses

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  1. It was so lovely hearing the inspiring speech with you! 🙂


    September 26, 2008 at 12:32 am

  2. Thanks for the comment Yan!

    Yes, it was wonderful sharing this beautiful speech with you. I miss those days very much…


    September 26, 2008 at 1:45 pm

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