Today, I’m grateful to Call Me Ishmael, the product of a team of people passionate about books, who cull voicemails to the fictional Ishmael (of Moby Dick fame) and share the voices of people who share why they love books. It’s a site that proves the leadership power of art and artists — and often inspires tears of recognition. This week, they’re featuring Nathan’s call about how the Harry Potter books saved his life. Quite literally. (To listen to Nathan’s call, scroll down their home page to the “Harry Potter Playlist. It’s the first one….)
When J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in her epic series about a boy wizard with a lightning scar and a difficult destiny, she couldn’t have known the riches it would bring her and the world, or the powerful leadership role she and her storybook heroes would have in the rich fantasy lives of millions of children (and adults).
There’s even a leadership book, If Harry Potter Ran General Electric, which I taught as part of my Leadership and the Arts course at Union Institute and University. This book analyzes the potential leadership roles the heroes of Rowling’s books might take as CEOs, and talks a lot about masterful leadership and the challenges of deciding when to be a maverick, a hero and a conformist. It’s fun and thoughtful.
But it’s not the definitive evidence for the leadership power of Harry Potter. That evidence is in Nathan’s voicemail: http://callmeishmael.com/harry-potter-series-j-k-rowling/. An abused child, Nathan decided that “if Harry Potter could survive,” so could he. And so he did. At the end of the voicemail, Nathan says, his voice cracking, “I am the boy who lived.”
This is the power of art to lead us forward, and inspire us to reach beyond the limitations of our circumstances. I don’t know if Nathan considers himself a leader, but that voicemail makes him one, inspires others in the same way Harry Potter inspired him.
It’s gone viral, appearing on my facebook page several times in the past few days, and in my email box twice. It’s a social media wake-up call. Read. Think. Lead. Because if Harry Potter can defeat evil, if Nathan can heal, if Pussy Riot can bring international attention to oppression in Russia, if Jesus can change the way people behave towards each other, if Picasso can create paintings that teach us how to see the world more clearly, then I can lead in my way. You can lead in yours. Maybe we can even make the world better together.
According to Agnes Gund, President Emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art: “We must mount a braver defense of the arts, a more vigorous, vital, real-life defense. I have thought a lot about the true, deep and telling, urgent importance of the arts to Americans. In this time of financial trouble and international turmoil, the arts and the humanities provide more than “enhancement,” more than “benefit.” They provide insight; they provide incentive; they inspire. They give us answers.”
I take that one step further. Artists are leaders who create art that teaches us new ways of thinking about leadership, and help us step up to survive and thrive. In the process, we can become leaders in our own right.
Thanks Nathan. Thanks, Ishmael. Thanks, J.K. Rowling.
What artist do you want to thank today for making your life and leadership better?