Inaction As a Failure of Imagination

In a commencement address at Harvard this spring, excerpted in Greater Good, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling spoke about the unique power of human imagination to change the world. Rowling said that when she worked for the human rights organization Amnesty International in her early 20s, she shared office space with former political prisoners and read the testimonies of torture victims. The experience made her realize that imagination is what allows us to empathize with people who have suffered horribly and to act on their behalf. The danger of inaction, Rowlings said, comes from people who “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.

Rowling urged the Harvard graduates to “retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages.” To change the world, she said, all that we need is “the power to imagine better.” 

To read more about the need for imagination, see the creativity package in the July/August issue of Utne Reader.

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