Jorie Graham speak at the Founders' Day Convocation at Illinois Wesleyan University. Wow!
It was a call to empathy. A powerful, honest, sometimes funny, humble and humbling speech. She wants those of us who grew up with empathy to reawaken and exercise it, to walk out in the world again and know it, cherish it. She wants those of us who are growing up on technology to realize there's a real world, not just a virtual one, again by walking out in it.
She wants us to have empathy for future generations we will never see; we must imagine them in order to feel for them, of course, so we will be exercising our imaginative as well as our empathic parts to do so. She told us that the part of the brain sparked by empathy is the same part sparked by information received at the tips of our fingers. (Nancy, your reading on the brain, learning, and Braille connects to this, yes?) It's as if our fingertips are an insect's feelers or a cat's whiskers, alerting us to what's all around, helping us to function, warning us of danger. Graham wants us to put our fingertips out metaphorically into the future, with empathy, so we don't with our actions now make it horrendous for our descendants, if there are any, then.
Will we be satisfied with cute animal pictures on the Internet, she asked. What about the real animals? Likewise, the Disneyfied world of animated animals. What about their real lives on the real earth? Yes, she was asking us to reconsider what we value and make sure we care for and appreciate what we have, so we don't ruin it. An environmental call to "arms," asking us to embrace our world and our task, which will be to change our behavior.
Atlanta ran out of water, she said, and asked Mississippi for some. Mississippi said no. The federal government had to step in. We are already saying no to our fellow humans, in our own country, she was pointing out, and already using up our natural resources. We must change.
galvanized by this speech.
At the end of her speech, she read 5 poems, not her own (which will interest the Voice Alpha people!), about human empathy. I confess they made me cry, even though I had read them before, in that gasping, OMG-not-in-public kind of way. But it was OK: semi-dark auditorium, shared empathy, we were/are all in it together.
She read the poems from the page, in a voice like talking, as they were projected behind her on a large screen, so we could read them, too, white letters on a black background, stimulating two main parts of the brain! (And, I hope, the center of empathy.)
"You Can Have It" by Philip Levine
"Hook" by James Wright
"Saint Judas" by James Wright (Click on "A Blessing," too!)
"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden (click the audio!)
"The Panther" by Rainier Maria Rilke