This is an essay by Christopher Hutton.
“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” -AC Grayling
The one thing my mother taught above all others is that reading matters. The more one reads, the better they become. But she never said how I would become better; only that I would.
I’ve always been a natural book-lover since birth. It always felt like my bread and butter. However, my love of books came not from the benefits, but for the books themselves. It felt a bit odd. It was just like a hobby, where I do something for the sake of something, not because I acknowledge some form of benefit. But as I’ve grown into a young man, I began to see the benefits.
These benefits were not attributes based in objective terms (IE one’s reading ability, one’s IQ, etc), but in broad swaths that affected much of life; almost as though the essence of it was affecting the human soul. This description sounds abstract and obscure, but it is how I understand it.
But what were these benefits ? Over the years, I believe that my reading has helped me develop the following:
- An expanded empathy: I was never easily phased or effected by emotional events of the day. (It’s why my siblings always liked calling me Mr. Spock) Through books, I came to better understand the emotional highs and lows that men have had. I have seen the joy of a father at birth, and the lows that often come through death and divorce. I wept with families who lose loved ones, and laughed with those who found joy in the simplicity of life. This wasn’t just some change of man, it came from a wider reading of the pains and joys of men. Authors like Flannery O’Connor and James Bradley vividly illustrated the everyday pains of life, and the atrocity that is war. My eyes were opened to the Truths of the human experience.
- A deeper understanding of everyday life: I loved technology and all that it can do. But how does the technology work? What is the story that led to its development? There have been many books that have opened doors and illuminated my mind about these truths. Without them, I would be blind to the inner workings of life around me. I now know the Larger story.
- A more critical opinion of my fellow-man: The two big perspectives of life is that of Optimism and Pessimism. We either expect the best, or expect the worst. I always expected the worst. But a wider reading of literature helped me to see the good and the bad in its natural habitat, and how they co-mingle in the hearts of men.
- The ability to seek Truth: I’ve been a man who always saw things as simplistic. However, I’ve been blessed with the opportunities to read books that help one to seek Truth, wherever it may be. I’ve read both sides of arguments, and learned to rationally and critically think through them. In doing so, I’ve begun to understand why men do what they do, and how they do so.
Why these changes matter:
These benefits are things that seem good to our basic eyes, but why do they matter? Why should you care about any of this?
My answer? Because it’s beneficial in the long-term.
Most of us do focus primarily on now instead of on the long-term picture, involving all parts of our lives. The strongest benefits of reading comes from it educating and enlightening us to the human condition; the very thing that drives us from birth to death. This condition is driven by an interconnected sense of reason and emotion; something that is easy to use, but is hard to understand.
But it is through reading that we come to a stronger understanding of this. Through reading, we are able to become better humans than before. And as better human beings, we are able to serve our communities more, seek out Truth, and live in a way that will lead to the Greater Good.
Where do you need to grow? How can literature help you on that quest?