It’s a bit of advice I gave my child the other day while out on a walk: read a lot; read a variety. It took long into my 40-some years to learn that even for myself.
Too often, reading becomes much like any form of entertainment in our lives. We read less because well… We should, and more because it is something fun— either for the stories/topics themselves or for the joy of discussing the books with others. Rarely do we pick up books not knowing that in some way they will entertain us. We either already know the genre, or the author, or the theme. Maybe we’re picking up a biography of someone we are interested in. Either way, there is something that is known. And maybe since we are interested in many things, that list of books might be broad. But that isn’t the point.
I’ve found that in life, truths can be found in unexpected places. I think back to an episode of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as Iroh begins to teach Zuko the value in learning techniques in bending from the other nations. (For those who haven’t seen the show, bending is like magic, enabling a person to manipulate any one of the four element: water, earth, fire, or air— with only the Avatar being able to bend all 4. It’s a great show, so you should check it out.) What Iroh explains is that when learning is locked into only one of the four elements (or nations as he put it), then it becomes rigid and stale. How right he is.
The advice I gave my child in ways was inspired by Iroh in the show. The idea being that reading out of many topics and disciplines can expand our understanding of the world and ourselves in ways that remaining rigid will not. Often, I find greater meaning in stories I had no intention of reading, but chose to anyway to give it a chance. Maybe it’s a style choice that the author uses. Or a fact on a topic gives insight why the world is the way it is. There’s any number of reasons.
It’s not safe, of course. But do we want safe? Should we have safe? The question speaks of a wider possibility, but for here let’s stick to the reading of books. That safety might be not getting bored. Boredom, if we let it sit, can lead us towards insight into ourselves, or drive us towards creative output— if we let it. Maybe the topic will “trigger” us, forcing us to experience the pain and anxiety from a lived experience. In doing so, it also shows us the opportunity to strengthen our resolve. Stories could help us face these pains, these fears, so that we can decouple them from our psyche. It’s an extreme case, but it serves a purpose.
Or maybe it’s an idea or an experience that stands firmly against an idea that is held close. Opportunity exists there to either modify one’s belief or to learn newer forms of defense for it.
Reading many different things helps to expand ourselves. It is why I encourage it. Learning shouldn’t be rigid or stale. It shouldn’t follow strictly along the line recommended by educational institutions either. So read a variety. Read the unexpected. Read out of the comfort of what we like or what won’t trigger pain. Read a topic that might bore. Just read. Read a lot. Read a variety.