A Reading Man

"You can never get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me."

They say that leaders are readers. I say not always, but the greatest leaders throughout history have been avid readers. The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, would read a book every morning and one or two more in the evening if time allowed. Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard describes himself as a devout reader as did many of our most renowned generals and military men. The book of Ecclesiastes repeats over and over that, “there is nothing new under the sun” and Plato describes the joy of speaking with old men who have walked the path that he may someday need to walk as well. Reading opens up everything that exists under the sun to us and allows us to discover roads which we may someday have occasion to walk. It is the mode by which we come to wisdom - by studying the whole of a subject, from every state of mind and from every angle at which it can be looked at, as John Stuart Mill would say - human wisdom has never been acquired any other way.

It is a hapless fact that digital media has superseded book reading over the last handful of decades. Though most books are available digitally, there is something irresistible about hard copy books. Studies have also shown that reading books in hard copy improves the retention of information. With a world of information so readily available on the internet, it is becoming more evident by the day that people no longer gain a broad understanding of the full context of a subject, as is the effect of book reading. Instead, whenever knowledge is called upon, anyone can skim an article or two online and have the information that they require within minutes. There exists advice in which some might tell you that only reading the portions of a book which are relevant to what you seek is a means of reading more books. That is the advice of an intellectual sloth. If something is worth learning, it ought to be learned in full.

Besides being mere entertainment or the chore of students, reading is the effort by which the mind is exercised and the wit is sharpened. It is how we come to understand the world and the people around us - it is how we come to understand ourselves as individuals and as a society as well. S Mansfield Wrote the following in his 1996 book The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill:

“One of the signs of a great society is the diligence with which it passes culture from one generation to the next. This culture is the embodiment of everything the people of that society hold dear: its religious faith, it's heroes.....when one generation no longer esteems it's own heritage and fails to pass the torch to its children, it is saying in essence that the very foundational principles and experiences that make the society what it is are no longer valid. This leaves that generation without any sense of definition or direction, making them the fulfilment of Karl Marx's dictum, 'A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.”

These words are included as an infinitely more eloquent expression that reading is the means by which we come to understand ourselves individually and socially. It is through reading that we know our religious faith, our heroes, our foundational principles and experiences. If these are lost then we no longer have any sense of self or direction and we can be persuaded by or to be anything.

As men we are leaders in our families, our workplaces and our communities. We will be significantly better at fulfilling our responsibilities in these areas when we are aware of ourselves and our society. Men who have already walked the path that we now find ourselves on and that we may one day find ourselves on, have left us the accounts of their travels and the trials and triumphs that were met along the way. The more we read and listen, the more effective we can be.

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