This is a continuation of our “Why Read” discussion. Remember, we started by defining the three broad reasons to read. Then we talked about pleasure and education. Last week, we continued our discussion by looking at how reading reveals new ways to live.
Today I want to talk about two ancient Greek words, paedeia and eudaimonia, and what they mean to your reading. These two Greek words carry the weight of tradition. Both of these words have been the subject of philosophical discussion for centuries. That, of course, tells us they can mean just about anything you imagine (no offense to philosophy majors, it was my favorite class as an undergraduate).
Let’s start with a dictionary definition:
training of the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development
Paedeia, in ancient Greece, was the process of educating humans into their true form, the real and genuine human nature. For our purposes, though, I am most interested in part of the definition that deals with a “broad enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural development.” What a mouth full!
For ancient Greeks, it was not enough to memorize facts. It was not enough to gather large stores of information. A proper education concerned itself with teaching how those facts can be used to look at the world.
This is how we should read. It is not enough to plow through a book without stopping to consider the ideas expressed. It is not enough to absorb a work and take it at face value without stopping to consider how you might apply what you’ve learned from your reading.
Again, let’s start with a dictionary definition:
a person’s state of excellence characterized by objective flourishing across a lifetime, and brought about through the exercise of moral virtue, practical wisdom, and rationality.”
A lifetime of “flourishing” is what we’re after, isn’t it? A weekend of flourishing is not enough nor is a decade if you’ve been given more time. Your approach to reading should be with this outlook as well.
Eudaimonia is a combination of morality, practical wisdom, and rational thought. Exploring only one is not enough. Your reading should be well-rounded.
We should read with this aim in mind. We should read for a lifetime of learning and flourishing in a well-rounded way.
How Do You Read Like These Greek Words Suggest?
1. Read slowly.
2. Take time to contemplate what you’ve read.
3. Consider a real world experience that might relate to your reading.
4. Discuss or write about what you’ve read to test your ideas.
5. Read from a variety of sources and on a variety of subjects.
7. Make reading a daily habit for life. Even if that means, some days, spending only five minutes reading a folded up poem from your pocket.
8. Have a conversation with the author you’re reading in the margins of your text.
9. Read with an open mind and without pre-suppositions.
10. Question everything you read.
11. Eventually, take a position for or against what an author’s written.
By following these guidelines your reading will never be boring nor will it be wasted time.