We Have the Power

“We have the power to imagine better.” J.K. Rowling is relevant as ever.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive.”

Rowling spoke about the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination at Harvard University to its 2008 graduating class.

“Imagination is not only the unique human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation; in its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

Eight years later, Rowling’s words shed light on America’s 2016 presidential campaign:

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places,” said Rowling. “Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate or control just as much as to understand or sympathize, 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 other. They can refuse to hear screams or 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 I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters; they are often more afraid. What is more, those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters, for without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.”

Today, Tuesday, election day in the USA, we join together as decent human beings to vote for the first woman leader of the free world.

“The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government has an impact way beyond your borders,” Rowling said. “That is your privilege and your burden. 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 be not only your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.”

Rowling quotes the Greek author Plutarch, who said: “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” What is it we need our outer reality to be?

“We do not need magic to change our world,” said Rowling. “We carry all the power we need inside of us already. We have the power to imagine better.”

We have the power, and we are stronger together.

In Our Hands

After the #IFLApubLibraries as Publishers” conference, August 10-12 at the University of Michigan Library, I trust now and must share (here I’m writing to the public, to our one United Public) that together we can and will save the world through collaboration, education, motivation, and empathy.

Through love. (I mean it.)

It means valuing inclusion, creativity, communication, quality, and the spirit of art, innovation, and open access everywhere, all the time, beginning sustainably in higher education, for it is our responsibility at our nation’s leading institutions to nurture the cultural, social, and intellectual well-being of our communities (local to global) and step up to say this matters.

If all the power I have in this moment is the power of words, then I will raise my voice from here on out to advocate for these values in the world and support my fellow humans with a new mantra: learning is life. It’s time to live it.

If this sounds good (say, if you support the mission of the University of Michigan or The Malala Fund), join in this pivotal movement toward a national ask for funded art programs and “making labs” across the country, open access education, and a collective vision of global literacy and intentional communication in the Information Age.

The world needs good, smart, innovative people at the forefront of our society, both on and off the internet. That means safety in our communities, both on and off the internet.

That means the grit of love and feminism must persist.

Call this protest! Call it performance art! It is the crux of my personal and professional mission moving forward. How remarkable to be living at this revolutionary time.

I’ve never felt more inspired to remember I’m a Wolverine. Now is a preciously serendipitous moment to work with students, teachers, artists, librarians, and researchers in publishing at the University of Michigan and beyond. And it’s time to pay it forward.

We must share with intention, sans ego, from now on. (We can, yes. We must.)

This is in our hands. The whole of it.

Together we will make the future. And we will make it better.