This is an essay by Brandon Monk.
The beauty of reading is, “You can use the powers you acquire from books to live better yourself and to do something for the people around you.” – Malcolm X
The purpose of this essay is to discuss the idea of reading and to provide an additional reason to read, if you need one. We have already discussed reading for pleasure and education is, in my mind, the second reason to read as I set out previously. The third is perspective and we will discuss that reason soon. Remember, there is overlap between the ideas. So, don’t get hung up reading for too narrow a focus. Ideally, you’re reading for more than one reason every time you sit down with a book.
For now, though, let’s think about reading for education.
The things I remember are the things that are connected to some other sensation, emotion, or idea. Connections I can’t make in life I can make through books. In that way books are tools used to pass on education and experience.
I will never go to war. I will never command an army. I will never spend time in prison. These are, however, potentially valuable experiences. To empathize with others I should know something of what these things are like.
I will lose a loved one. I will be the butt of a joke. I will be ridiculed. I will be the dumbest man in a room. I will be hurt by a loved one. I will hurt someone’s feelings. I will have my feelings hurt. I will die. To prepare for these experiences I can ignore them or I can prepare through the kind of education books can provide.
I may make a decision that means life or death for someone I care about. I may be called upon to give my opinion on a matter that’s important. I may find myself defending the weak. I should prepare and books are the most efficient way to do so, outside of, perhaps practical experience. Getting practical experience, however, is not always possible. To fill the gap I must read.
Let’s explore this idea of reading for education in the context of eight ideas.
Education Leads to Self-Confidence
It is only when you have read enough that you know who you are. Then, you can become yourself, finally. Only once you become yourself can you be a benefit to other people. The process of becoming yourself requires self-education. You must conquer your own demons, your own shadow. Only then can you share that with the world.
How do you test yourself? How will you know when you are ready to share? How will you know when you are educated enough to contribute? Use books to test yourself. The greater the book the greater the test. Do you know and understand more than your neighbor about it? Can you use the book as a tool to solve your own problems? If the answer is yes then you have something to offer the world. The educated wield books like warriors wield swords.
Educate Yourself to Educate Others
The education you read for is not just your own. Children with parents that read turn into readers. Children watch what you do and do that when they are bored. Do you want your children to be educated? If you do then you must be educated yourself. You have to put in the effort to make yourself a light for your children to be drawn to.
Education Is an Evolutionary Advantage
The kind of education you read for can be an evolutionary advantage. Reading allows us to imagine things before they happen. In that way we can prepare for what may yet come. Our survival does not depend on being the strongest, fastest, or most durable. Our continued survival depends on being the best planners, the most imaginative. We rely on our ability to imagine what could happen and then enact a plan to survive it. Use your evolutionary advantage. Reading is imagining. Reading is practice in creative planning.
Books are the Most Patient Teachers
Have you ever had a patient teacher? Maybe you have. If you have you are blessed. Write them today and thank them.
Have you ever had the benefit of endless time, unlimited access, and an endless supply of the brightest minds the world has ever known? Yes, but if you aren’t reading you are letting those teachers sit in empty classrooms and give lectures to empty chairs. Books are the most patient teachers. Take advantage of them.
Being Educated Feels Good
What does it feel like to read a book and understand it? You feel smart. When was the last time someone called you smart? If it has been more than a week you may need to read more. Maybe the better question is, when was the last time you called yourself smart? If you can’t remember then you need to read. I’m not talking about vanity. I’m talking about reading to have the ability to make it through every day with your head held high no matter what happens because you know you have contributed and you will contribute more because you are improving. That is a powerful feeling.
We Need Educated Heroes
What is a hero? Joseph Campbell has probably done the best job of explaining the myth of the hero. (You should read him, by the way.)
What Joseph Campbell says is, “a hero is someone able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations.” I’ve mentioned this before, but the statistics point to the need. A third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book after college. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (Source: Jenkins Group).
People don’t read after they finish school and most houses don’t buy books. You are a hero struggling against this historical limitation.
Does your city have a particularly uneducated feel to it? If you have noticed this then you are a hero, but only if you decide you are going to go get knowledge and then bring it back to your city. If you accept the quest and then return with some form of knowledge then you are a hero. Be a hero. Bring reading back. Are all heroes welcomed with open arms? Not in modern society. Be prepared for detractors but be a hero anyway.
Access to the “Great Conversation”
There is a conversation that has been going on since man came into existence. It started with tales, “grunts from the hunt.” Now, we have endless volumes of electronic books to carry on the conversation. You can’t just jump into the conversation anywhere, though. That would be rude. At the very least, you would get some strange looks. You would likely be dismissed until you listened for a while and got up to speed.
If you read, you can learn what you need in order to participate. The beauty of this conversation is, if you are smart about how you participate and smart about how much you know about the conversation that happened before you jump in, then you can be a part of the conversation even after your body is dead.
In this conversation you will get to hear from the greatest minds that have ever existed. You will get to hear the opinions of the thinkers you most admire. Then, if you truly read their words and understand what they have to say, you can match yourself against them and improve their ideas. What more lasting tribute can you imagine? Your contribution can assure your favorite thinkers remain part of the conversation for centuries to come.
A Full Education Prepares You For Death
Our life prepares us for our death. If we read we remember that the world did just fine before we came around and we learn that the world will be just fine when we leave. Before we were born we weren’t miserable. We weren’t even conscious of our existence or non-existence. Reading tells us that many good things still happen when we are not around.
We also learn that we can leave a lasting legacy if we try. The legacy need not be for the entire world to be important. If our families benefit, it is a worthwhile legacy. They will want to know what kind of person we were and whether there was something they can learn from how we lived our lives. Write them something to pass on what you’ve learned. They will read that.
As a reader you are an example to all of man kind. You show them our potential. Set the right example and people will flock to you out of admiration and out of the desire to learn. This is what the best writers accomplish.
Be more than a lump of organic existence. Take yourself, through education, into the plane of ideas. Reading is, free, guaranteed passage into the plane of ideas.
Your good fortune is the access you have to knowledge. Everywhere you look, there are books. Our struggle is no longer one of resources. Our struggle is of resource management. Time is one of those resources that must be managed appropriately. Read to make the best use of your time.
Next time you must answer the mental question, what should I do? Think about this discussion.
I never thought that being a reader made me anything but a …reader. However, I do know that when I’m feeling uninspired and in a rut with writing, reading can help give me new ideas and innovative ways to word things.
I’ll admit,I get a little nervous tickle in my stomach any time I start talking about reading as a means to an end. It is such a valuable experience on its own.
That’s why I try to be careful to point out that if the only reason you ever read is because you want, because it’s fun, there is nothing wrong with that.
Everything else will come from that pleasurable experience, naturally.
Sometimes I find that having a practical nudge, a reason to read, depending on your mood, is handy for those days when nothing sounds fun. For those days when you think there isn’t a pleasurable experience in the world. We have all had a day like that. On those days maybe we can fall back on reason and logic and secondary gain and read for that reason.
Your reason is a great example. I think about writing as a process to get “tools” for use in writing sometimes, too.
This post makes me want to read! I love the part “I will be the butt of a joke…..” All of these situations can be created in a good book, and what a lovely gift to give someone to “practice” for when it happens to them in real life.
Truly inspiring post! Thanks for sharing!
That’s a good sign. Thank you!
I guess I see education/experience as a wonderful by-product of reading. I read because I can.
Have you seen any statistics about what percent of the U.S. population is functionally illiterate? The numbers vary, but they are certainly higher than you might expect for a country with compulsory education. All these people lack access to the knowledge you describe. Certainly, they are in that 80 percent you mention who are not buying books…
I haven’t looked at those numbers. They depress me to even think about.
I think the “by-product” idea a good way to look at education. Picking up a book is what I’m advocating ultimately. If, over time, you get something out of it, great. I can say this because I know all readers do get something else out of it.
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