WHY DO WE READ?

Why do you read?  I do not mean why do you read The OYL, but why do you read anything that purports to inform, educate or edify its readers? Before you think this a shallow question, let me share with you what I learned about the reasons I read.  Then you can decide as to whether or not there is anything of value to your life in my story.

My story starts several years ago.  I have always read — a lot!  I read on many subjects and from a variety of sources.  I have never been afraid to read differing opinions, or even material I find offensive.  But I started to undergo a change a few years back.  At first, I didn’t notice it — but others did.  They accused me of all manner of things from being seduced by the dark side to being an out-right turncoat.  Naturally, I objected.  I believed I was growing in my understanding of the world, so I just assumed the people who were attacking me did not or could not see what I was starting to see.  Once again, I was wrong.

In the short term, this change prompted me to start my own blogs.  Now I write on The OYL and The Road to Concord.  For about a year and a half, I wrote about the things that I believed and why I believed them.  I felt justified because I could see things others could not.  And for about a year and a half, I did not manage to generate much traffic on either blog.  However, about six months to a year ago, something changed in me and I started to actually see.  It was about that time that I actually stopped and asked myself;f why I read.  The answer surprised me.

If I am honest with myself, I will confess that I used to read to ‘educate’ myself.  But that is not true.   I wasn’t reading to educate myself; I was reading to justify my beliefs or to find weaknesses I could exploit to attack what my opposition believed.  Either way, it wasn’t about education as much as it was about justification and vindication.  I just wanted to ‘prove’ that I was right and others were wrong.  That is not education, it is just another form of indoctrination.  There is a world of difference between the two, and I believe the answer to why we read can be found in that difference.

For me, the reason we read is everything, but that reason can be hard to see — especially in our own reflection.  I have learned that it is usually easier to look at our actions to help us understand our motivations.  For example: whereas I once wrote to hammer home my opinions as correct and all others as wrong, I now try to write so that I can share what I have learned from reading and then show how it is connected to the events of our modern world.  I will admit, I still struggle with this, and — sometimes — I fall back into my old style and tone.  But I am trying to do better: to be of service to others and not try to control them by telling them what to think and what to believe.  Still, I have found that there are truths in this world, and we dare not violate them lest we suffer the consequence.

This gave me more cause to question myself, and I decided that what we do with the things we read is another indication of why we read.  If we do not use what we read to change ourselves, to change the way we live our daily lives, then why do we read?  Do we read to make us feel better about ourselves, or so we can feel justified in hating others?  Or do we read so we can learn about how history, current events, human nature and the physical world are all connected?  Or how we can change so that we can be a constructive influence in this system as opposed to a destructive force?  In other words: what do we do with the information we learn?  If we do not use it to change the only thing we can honestly claim to have control over — ourselves — then are we reading for the right reasons?  Or are we reading for the wrong reasons?

I have to say that I have learned that it does not benefit me to read for the purposes of attacking anyone, or for tearing them down.  At the same time, there are truths, and it does not help to sugar coat them.  For example: when national leaders say one thing then do another, then what they said is a lie.  There is no amount of justification that can change this.  They cannot tell us they changed their minds, or circumstances changed.  They have a duty to the people they are supposed to serve, and that duty means they are bound to either do what they say they will do or fail in an open and transparent attempt to achieve their stated goals.  Likewise, when we allow said leaders to ‘convince’ us that they did not lie, we accept a second lie.  It is not destructive to point out such things.  The truth is never a destructive force, but lies almost always are.  This is just a fact of life.  It is how the world is meant to work, and reading history will teach us this lesson — if we are humble enough to actually learn.

In closing, I’ll confess that this is not my best post.  I did not sit down and try to write it as a tight logical argument.  Nor did I try to cite references to buttress my argument.  I don’t really have an argument.  All I know is that I want to share something I have learned that — to me, anyway — is very valuable. So I just wrote from the heart, and with little editing.  I just have to hope that, somehow, my rambling will strike a chord with you, and that you will understand the lesson I that took me forty-eight years to learn:

What you do with the things you read determines your true motivation for reading; and your true motivation for reading determines whether or not you are reading for the right reasons, or the wrong ones.  So look to what you do with the information you read and then decide whether or not you have been helping or harming yourself.  Then consider how that has been affecting those around and closest to you.  Will you use your visit to this blog to help yourself grow, or to serve those around you?  If so, how?  If not, then maybe you should stop reading this page. 

5 responses to “WHY DO WE READ?

  1. Some of why we read is for entertainment.
    That is paramount to many, and they normally don’t even reach the level of looking for verification of their internalized programmed propaganda for most of their reading.

    But then that motivation does take over when “serious” reading is attempted. I would agree with you there. Which by nature of its goal calls the “serious” aspect of that reading into question, as you are struggling with.

    But I don’t know that we can honestly conflate understanding and indoctrination. There seems to be too much assumption about intention and ability wrapped up in doing that. In other words because we read and yet do not Change our thinking does not necessarily mean we haven’t “read correctly”……or we have only “read with a bias”.

    To assume that would itself imply a “correct” way of reading…. a kind of pre-determined outcome, the deviation of which locates the reader as somehow deficient or shallow. Especially if their reading reinforces their prior thinking and conclusions.

    • Do,

      I did not intend to convey that there is a correct way or method of reading, but that the REASON for reading can be wrong. If I am reading for gain, then I may well read and disagree with something and still be reading with the proper motivation. I do not HAVE to change my position to be reading with a proper motivation. This is why I stated that there are truths upon which we must stand. Once we find them, unless and until we are shown where, how and why we are wrong, we should not budge from what we believe to be true. But this can and does allow for us to continue reading with a proper motivation. Does this make better sense, or clarify my position a little better?

      As for reading for entertainment: why in heaven’s name would someone be on this or any other blog like this for entertainment? If this is ‘entertainment,’ does that not fall under the wrong motivation?

      • Ahh Ahh,,, AHHHH ! One persons serious text may be anothers’ “entertainment”…… who are we to judge …right .. :- )).

        But really Joe….. you mentioned reading in the general sense. In the specific sense I’m not sure there is a difference between “method of reading” versus Reason for reading, not for the general public at least.

        And my comment was directed towards your terms ‘proper’ motivation and ‘the wrong motivation’. As someone who has the “RIGHT motivation” can also be viewed as the “CORRECT motivation”…..Right/correct being interchangeable. As to the “right” motivation for reading, I think what I said addresses that, specifically the assumption of there being an a priori right versus wrong motivation. I understand your position.

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