Well Worth Watching

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Recently I stumbled upon two videos well worth watching.

They’re part of the TED series called “Best of the Web”, which collects  insightful, inspiring and engaging talks not specifically given as part of any TED event.

They also happen to come from two of my favorite authors, J. K. Rowling and Douglas Adams.

The first is from J. K. Rowling, given as a Harvard commencement address and entitled, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.” I’ve linked to the original post on the Harvard Magazine site, because it also provides an excellent transcript of her speech.

We do not need magic to transform our world.  We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already:  we have the power to imagine better.

Rowling’s speech touches far less on Harry Potter than expected, instead focusing on the meaning of failure and its implications.  She also discusses her early work with Amnesty International, and lessons she learned while interacting with people who’d been the targets of human rights violations.  One of the most incredible gifts of our imaginations, she shares, is our ability to empathize with others.

The power of human empathy leading to collective actions saves lives and frees prisoners.

Those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters, for without ever committing and act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it through our own apathy.

She finishes with a quote from Seneca, a Roman philosopher:

As is a tale, so is life:  not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

Her speech is a call to action, a spoken belief in human goodness and the triumph of the imagination of the human spirit.  It is also a vivid reminder that, more often than not, success cannot be achieved without failing (and learning from that failure) first.

The second is from Douglas Adams, given at the University of California and called, “Parrots, the Universe and Everything.”

This is a much longer presentation, but worth taking the time to watch (or even simply to listen to in the background while working on something else).  It delivers, in Adams’ inimitable witty and engaging style, reflections on evolution, the natural world, and the cost of ignoring the impacts of humans on the earth.

It was also given shortly before he died, which makes it even more precious.

Some snippets from the talk:  here is some advice that the team received prior to the final stage of their journey from a world-renowned poisonous creature expert in Australia:

Well don’t get bitten, that’s all I can say.  And if you do, don’t come running to me because you won’t get here in time.

Regarding the Kakapo, a flightless parrot found in New Zealand:

Sadly it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly, so a seriously worried kakapo has been known to run up a tree and jump out of it. . . It flies like a brick.

The mating call of the male Kakapo actively repels the female Kakapo, which is the sort of behavior usually found only in discotheques.

And on to more serious reflections:

And if we think that the world is here for us, we will continue to destroy it because we think we can do no harm.

Maybe we should be looking after it [the earth] just a little bit better.  We don’t have to save the world – it’s big enough to look after itself.  What we need to worry about is if it’s capable of sustaining us on it.

I hope you’ll take a little time to watch either or both of these videos and let me know what you think in the comments section below.  And, in the words of Douglas Adams, please “Share and enjoy!”

Photo credits:

Photo of J. K. Rowling:  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License.  Attribution:  Sjhill

Photo of Douglas Adams:  This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  Attribution: Michael Hughes


I firmly believe that every one of us has something to offer, and that each of us can make a difference in this world. I also believe that it’s vitally important that we not take ourselves too seriously, enjoy life, and have fun.

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