In my last post, I ranted and raved about the importance of educating yourself beyond (and maybe even in place of) formal education. The number one way we can educate ourselves is to stimulate our brain by reading. And I don’t mean reading your News Feed or click-bait articles. I mean good old fashioned books.
Being Forced to Read As a Kid
When you were a kid, no doubt you were a part of the BOOK IT™ program. What a great idea! Encourage kids to read by offering them a free personal pan pizza from PizzaHut. Mmmmmm. Pan Pizza. That was a great incentive for this husky 10 year old. And while I loved feeding my face with greasy, pan-baked deliciousness, I did not love feeding my mind.
To say I did not love reading in school is putting it rather mildly. It was probably because someone was telling me I had to. But once I was no longer being forced to read “because it would be on your test,” I realized that there was now a vacuum in my life. I began to hunger and thirst for information beyond what was regularly shoved down my throat in school.
Learning to Love Reading
I remember the moment I began to love reading. I was tasked with reading the book April Morning by Howard Fast. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. It was the first time in my life where I honestly was wrapped up in a story and transported to another time and place. I had no idea that reading could do that. Now, this may seem silly to those of you who love to read but for someone like me it was a revelation!
What started with my April Morning experience was later trumped by the experience that officially turned me into an avid reader. I was about 22 years old and my wife recommended that I read The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher. It was a young adult book series that she read growing up and I was looking for something easy to read while we were on vacation. I couldn’t put the books down. I was hooked! These books actually inspired me to write a song, which was then featured on The No Longer album, A New Chairman. I’m still holding out hope that they will make a feature film adaptation and I can submit the song to be featured on the soundtrack. (I guess those dreams of being a rockstar still haven’t been put to bed quite yet.)
Anyway, my love of fiction soon grew into a love of all kinds of literature. I’ve read biographies, books on business, marketing, theology, personal development, careers, music, you name it. I still mix in some fiction every third book or so to keep the creative synapses firing- it seems my genre of choice is political action thriller. I honestly believe that in the last five years I’ve learned more about myself and the world at large by reading than I ever did in a classroom. That may also be the result of having read more books during that time than I had in my previous 25 years of being able to read.
How Reading Shapes Our View of the World
What I’ve discovered about reading is that it allows you to learn the way your mind works. Many people would rather be told what to think by some professor, guru, or by the media. But very few actually take the time to read to broaden their horizons. When I’m reading a book, the content of that book shapes my frame of mind for the entire duration of that book. I think about it whenever I’m not reading it and cannot wait to get a spare second to poke my nose in it again.
Smart Phones Are Making Us Dumb
Many of us desperately need to rediscover the lost art of reading if we are to have any hope for the world. In a world of fake news, alternative facts, media bias, and social media re-posters, we can easily become the victim of what many call the dumming-down of America. If this generation spent as much time staring at books as they did staring at their phones, then I believe we would be in a much better position then we are currently. But the problem is that reading a book takes the focus off of us and puts it on someone else. Their words, their views. I am guilty of this myself, but many people take more joy in selecting the appropriate filter when posting pictures of their favorite books on Instagram than actually reading the books themselves.
I recently received an email from famous author Ryan Holiday. He has a recommended reading list that he sends out once a month and it’s free to subscribe.
He opened the email like this,
“If you’ve been distressed by the recent political situation–whatever side you happen to be on–here’s a little trick I’ve come up with: Whenever you start to feel stressed, upset, depressed, confused, worried, put down your phone, step away from the television or computer and pick up a book. Ideally, pick up a very old book. There was a wonderful New York Times article last week from Alexis Coe where she discussed the clarity that comes from reading old presidential biographies. It reminds you: things have always been bad. We’ve always been worried and, hey, occasionally, we turn out to be totally wrong about someone.”
I couldn’t agree more. We need to put down our phones and pick up a book if we have any hopes of surviving in this world. But the downside of our social media culture is that if you see something that bums you out or tries to make you think, then you can just keep scrolling, or swipe left or right. But if you are investing time in reading a book, then you come face to face with something that you can’t ignore and it should make you think.
And here is where my views on reading and education converge.
Learning More From Reading and Implementing Than From Going to College
Thankfully, my children inherited their mother’s love of reading. I have to tell them not to bring books to the dinner table otherwise they will let their food get cold. It’s incredible, really. Their vocabulary is tremendous and they are excellent students. But their love of reading came first and I think it is one of the reasons they do so well in school and not the other way around. And even if they decide to pursue a path that requires that they get a college education, I believe that it is their love of reading that will ultimately allow them to succeed. I know that even after getting a degree in whatever field they choose, they will continue to read and learn.
When people learn about me and see firsthand that I know how to produce a podcast, edit audio and video, write and produce music, sing and act, do web and graphic design, and write on this blog prolifically, they always ask me what I went to school for. My answer? A high school diploma. Seriously, even though I went to Connecticut School of Broadcasting, I had already worked in radio for two years up to that point with nothing but on-the-job training to get me started. I can honestly say that everything I have accomplished in the last 10 years of my life I learned by reading and implementing on my own.
For example, I wanted to start a podcast, so I typed into Google “How Do You Start a Podcast?” I read everything I could find about the subject and then, as if by some miracle, I started a podcast. Because I can read and I can implement. The biggest obstacle people need to overcome is their inability to execute on an idea because they think it’s too hard or worse, they think they need someone’s permission to do it. You cannot say something is impossible or that you are incapable if you refuse to educate yourself and take advantage of the resources that are available to you.
Education IS Free for Everyone. If You Put in the Work
In this day and age we have endless resources at our fingertips. Literally anything that you want to know is available to you for free or almost free. If you have the internet, all the more so. But just think about the library. In most cases, you can simply request any book in their vast archive of literature and they will have it transferred to your local library (at least that’s the case for the library system in the county that I live in).
Anything you want to know you can learn on your own by reading. You do not need to go back to school. Even MIT has posted some of their courses online FOR FREE. Use the money you would spend on a college education and invest in a library of books that could change your life.
Reading All Perspectives
In my opinion, people also need to expand their worldview beyond just their own point of view. I think that reading only things you agree with can stunt your overall education on any particular topic. And if your number one source for information is social media, then you are an imbecile. Plain and simple.
If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, then posting a well-crafted argument on Facebook will not accomplish that. Instead, maybe give them your favorite book as a gift.
But I’m living in a dream world. Instead, my conservative friends will continue to bash all liberal thinkers, and my liberal friends will continue to bash all conservative thinkers, meanwhile I sit back with a bag of popcorn and watch the fireworks. How about you stop labeling other people and hiding behind your online persona, and actually engage in a face to face discussion about the merits or disadvantages of a particular stance? I challenge you, no matter what side you’re on, pick up a copy of the opposing views’ most popular written work and read it. You won’t do it. And that’s the trouble. Most people don’t read and educate themselves on all sides of an argument for fear of being proven wrong.
The fact of the matter is that every article written by every person in the world is written from their worldview. Bias abounds. You cannot escape it. That’s why you need to read everything you can get your hands on about a specific topic before you start pontificating about the merits of one position or another. Read people you agree AND disagree with. You may get incredibly frustrated, but this will help you to formulate your own opinion on something and develop a bulletproof defense of your views.
Reading Can Change Your Life and Maybe Even the World. If You Let It.
If you want to remain ignorant then ignore everything I’ve just said, but if you want to change your life, other people’s minds, and maybe even the world, then it’s time to put down your electronic devices and explore the written word.
April Morning by Howard Fast
The Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson
Start by Jon Acuff
Progeny Series by Shawn Hopkins
The Last Jihad Series by Joel C. Rosenberg
Defeat Mega Agents by Ryan Fletcher
What I’m currently reading:
Are Liars Tell Stories by Seth Godin
Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk
The Cost of Discipleship by Diedrich Boenhoffer