A published copy of J.K Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech given at Harvard University – such a synopsis rather cheapens what this little book contains. Aside from the beautifully packaged product which contains gorgeous illustrations from Joel Holland, Very Good Lives operates on two very important concepts – do not underestimate the power of failure or the power of imagination.
The first in particular resonated with me, as someone who measures a lot of her self worth in test scores and grades. Having graduated in December, I now find myself floundering in the “real world”, a world outside of university and school which, for the most part, could not care less about what percentage I scored on that Maths test I did when I was 16.
Realising this is a jarring, but vastly important, moment. I’m a person who lets the fear of potentially failing something, of being tested and found wanting, stop her from trying anything. I haven’t, aside from test scores, lived a very “successful” life, I’ve been afraid to live, even if that means failing a lot of the time before finding a success.
So it’s safe to say Rowling’s words in this speech hit home and I would absolutely encourage its perusal for every college graduate, or soon to be graduate, since I think it’s an important message to consider going forward into life, or so it’s called. College graduate or not, however, the narrative of fearing failure can resonate on any level, with most individuals, just as the second message of Rowling’s speech (the power of imagination) is crucial to every individual experience on this planet.
What she calls imagination, or empathy, allows us to consider positions we do not hold, to see ourselves as people we are not (perhaps even to empathise with fictional characters on a page), to imagine the hardships of others and sympathise on a very real level. We cannot ever truly know what it is like to be someone else, but the power of empathy and imagination is certainly an underestimated, and vital, one.
Being more acutely aware of these two important factors of life would probably make for a better lived life, for me at least, but if nothing else I would suggest everyone read Very Good Lives for the eloquent and encouraging words of the ever-inspiring J.K. Rowling.