I remember seeing a poster somewhere proclaiming, “Readers are Leaders.” Certainly, the basic truth here is evident but I greatly fear there is need for some additional specificity. I’d vote for expanding it to say, “Readers who read the right things are leaders.”
Today we are being deluged with published sludge that neither informs nor tests the mind. We’ve become addicted to news that comes in a few hundred characters or less or can be compressed into a titillating paragraph with an attention-grabbing headline. Broadcast news has perhaps nourished us to this end with its reliance on a high-entertainment, low-content format. Throw in good-looking anchors with a penchant for shallow wit and you’ve got a Nielsen winner.
One look at the publishing industry will confirm that the primary reason a submission becomes a book is the belief that it will make money. If someone will buy it, you’ll find it rolling off the press. The problem is, this makes the market sovereign over content.
It was an essential axiom early on in the development of educational philosophy that reading was necessary for several reasons. First, it imparts knowledge in large doses and can be used as a delivery system for almost every subject. Second, it engages the mind, initially by making sense of the ink on the page, and then in linking word meanings together to make thoughts, which compound to bring ideas together for analysis and reflection. Reading is a monumentally important cerebral exercise even as it can be both entertaining, and mood regulating. Reading has intellectual benefit, but also can engage the emotions deeply so that, in essence, it can reach out and grab and hold and affect the entire person.
But all this depends on what you’re actually reading. We need to rescue the novels that used language well from the discard pile labeled “classics.” We need to insist that our young people not only be taught but also forced to adhere to the rules of English grammar and style. We need to show them that reading great literature and forcing ourselves to interact with the great ideas of great thinkers is not dry and dusty but rather invigorating and able to bring about mature intellectual muscle.
Has anyone else noticed that the appreciation of grammar, capitalization, spelling, sentence structure, and overall communication has taken a societal nosedive corresponding to the rise in texting, email, and clever marketing slogans? The truth is we tend to write in the manner of the material we read. Unfortunately, we also learn to think in conformity to what we read. I greatly fear that truncated reading has led to shallow thinking, speaking, and – unfortunately – leading. I truly ache to hear some leader give a speech without hundreds of “uhs,” that truly uses language which makes spirits fly, and inspires those listening to resolute action. I’m talking Churchill, Roosevelt, Lombardi, King and Reagan.
Of course, I must put in a plug for reading the No. 1 bestseller of all time, the Bible. And I’ll make a deal with you. If you read the Bible (I’d start with the Gospel of John, and once in a while read one of the Psalms) and you have questions about what you’re reading, I’ll be your “pocket-pastor.” Email me your question and I’ll do my best to get you an answer. This offer is good for all who are serious about getting real answers to real questions. Who is first?
I believe those who read good literature learn not only facts but also how to think, analyze, reflect, and ultimately, lead their own lives and those around them. Let’s just hope that our nation, which has been accused of being the death of English, will not also put reading in the grave. Then again, given that you just read this column, maybe I’m just preaching to the choir.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.