Sometimes things happen around us that make us feel helpless and sad. What power do we really have to make the world better? It seems like books aren’t enough to make the kind of difference all of us, deep down, want to make.
Writing, reading and discussing the words we come across is about as constructive as it gets. Ideas are just ideas until they’re put on paper, but their power is so often underestimated. Perhaps we don’t always have the right words to respond to tragedy or even the good things that happen, but someone else often does.
Here’s why, now more than ever, we should make an effort to come together, to read and discuss our thoughts, to have a well-informed, unbiased worldview, to improve the way we look at other people and think about how they might be feeling.
Reading teaches us to care about other people
As a general population, we’re pretty self-centered. Don’t take that personally, that’s just the way we are. It’s how we start out as kids, only capable of thinking of ourselves and our needs and desires. As we grow up we learn how to care about other people, either through watching how the adults around us act or by forming our own relationships and figuring out what it means to care about someone else above ourselves.
My first article for Lifehack.org points to research that shows people who read fiction specifically are more aware of how those around them are feeling. Add to that the element of discussion and listening to others’ reactions to certain emotional events in stories, and reading becomes a tool for practicing how to fixate on others’ emotions. Which is particularly helpful if you also happen to be a writer.
Reading is constructive
When we read, we’re escaping from the real world in probably the best way possible. It doesn’t hurt anybody (physically) and it definitely doesn’t hurt us (physically). It’s intellectually stimulating and generates thought and ideas. And think about what happens when the characters in your book go on adventures and change the world. It motivates you to want to do the same.
Discussions nowadays, especially online, are full of hostility and ignorance. But getting together with others and having civil discussions together, even if it’s just about a book, is important, and powerful, and brings us together in ways we might never really believe it can.
Discussion is eye-opening
Admit it: when you close a good book, you have a lot of thoughts about that book. You probably start asking around among your circles: “Have you read this book?” We want to share our thoughts and feelings with other people. Sometimes we write about those thoughts and feelings in personal book reviews, which is one way to open up discussion on a particular book. There are more book clubs scattered around than you might think, professionally organized or casually run in your neighborhood.
Discussing a book’s themes and events takes our own perceptions and both confirms and reshapes them. It helps us see story elements we might have missed in our own readings, or understand parts we didn’t quite get the first time. No one reads one book the exact same way, and that’s where the total nerd in me starts squealing (no shame).
Discussing books doesn’t even need to happen in person. You can join a virtual book club or another kind of literature-focused online community and still reap the same benefits.
When we feel the need to better ourselves, to do something to make a difference in the world, we don’t always know where to turn. Somehow, books, and the discussions that spring up around them, often say words and express feelings we didn’t know we had.
What are you reading this week, and how are you sharing your thoughts with others? I’m reading the first Lord of the Rings book and my brain hurts a lot. But in a good way. I think.
Image courtesy of flickr.com.
Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.