Recently I was talking to a VP at a major trading company following up on my dwindling IRAs and asked him if he read Powerlessness: Why Organizations Fail at Customer Service, my piece on the topic.
He said somewhat ashamedly, “I don’t read a lot. That’s one of my weaknesses.”
I thought to myself, “How do you become a VP if you don’t read a lot?” But, I said out loud, “You should still read my blog. It’s about your company, though I never mentioned their name.”
“Oh, I read things online,” he admitted. “I’ll have to read it.”
The next day I was telling this story to an associate and friend who runs a company that tracks federal and state legislation. She said it reminded her of a story that happened to her when she was living in the South.
“I was eating breakfast, and there was a man at the counter reading a book and having his breakfast. Another man walked up to him and asked, ‘What are you reading fir?’ He didn’t ask the usual, what are you reading, he added the word ‘for.’ I never forgot that because it made such an impression on me.”
That one word changed the entire meaning of the sentence.
That’s because words really matter. And so does reading them.
In fact, if you ask Google, “Do words have consequences?” Google will show you 735 million results. The top result is my blog called The Intended and Unintended Consequences of Words.
But reading, and words also speak to another truth:
If you are what you eat, you certainly are what you read.
And if you don’t read, you are in effect, nothing. Just like if you ate nothing. You just die.
What are YOU reading fir?
In college, the Christian Brothers taught me a lot.
One of them was Brother Pius (who is no longer a brother, but that’s another story) who said: “You read for two reasons: to find out how other people live their lives, and how to live yours.”
Another brother (Urban) said, “Life is short, so you should surround yourself with the classics when you read.”
The Russian author, Dostoevsky, perhaps put it another way: “In their novels and stories, writers most often try to choose and present vividly and artistically social types which are extremely seldom encountered in real life, and which are, nevertheless, more real than real life itself.”
I did my independent study as an undergraduate on Dostoevsky. I read all his novels. They changed me.
Several years ago I was invited to participate in a panel that discussed the curriculum at University of Phoenix. I was invited because I was an oddity: an English major who also ran his own business. The discussion was about how their current environment was not friendly for students who want to enroll in the B.A. English program.
I subsequently wrote Alas, poor Yorick! Do you know him? about my experience, and it became one of the most-read pieces on our website. Almost 5,000 people have read it since posting in 2018.
The conclusion was this: “The more you study literature and English, the more prepared you will be to meet reality when it confronts you. Otherwise, you’ll treat everything as a debit or a credit, or whatever else you studied because you have limited your own horizon. With respect, if you eliminate the study of English or think it of no value, you’ll end up like Yorick, an empty human skull, ‘abhorred in imagination.’”
To this day, I don’t know if anyone believed me at that time. To this day, I don’t know if people who read the blog believed me.
But it really doesn’t matter, does it?
What matters is reading, just like you might be reading this. And for the reading to make you think!
I feel like I need to tell this truth more and more these days. Why is that?
p.s. Thanks for reading!