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!
4 thoughts on “What Are You Reading fir?”
I certainly agree on the importance of reading, as someone else who runs their own business. Not usually business books, though, those drive me up a wall. A made up anecdote to illustrate a point is like nails on a chalkboard for me. But biographies, of just about anyone, can be invaluable. Learning things the hard way is, of an effective but inefficient way to become a better person (or parent or business owner or…). Watching other people learn the hard way can sometimes do the trick, but even better is reading stories, non fiction or fiction, to try on those lives, see through new eyes, and learn many varied lessons. I’m guessing that’s a little bit of what you meant about Dostoevsky. I’ve always been a bit mystified by people who don’t read at all. How sad to miss out on all of literatures fascinating characters.
I’m actually reminded of a tweet I read after Game of Thrones aired the Red Wedding episode. It went something like this “Remember when all of your geeky friends were sad about 13 years ago? This is why.” So true! Everyone I knew back then was waiting on me or I was waiting on them to get to that chapter. It was like we all had the same fictional friends, we were all needing to share very real feelings and talk though what it meant to us. There’s something about reading that really makes it stick; all those people and experiences are now part of the memories I can draw on when making my own decisions in life.
Thanks, Karen, for the comment! That’s also the thing about reading: the memories of reading get intermixed with the actual experiences of our lives. “Did that really happen, or…” is often a thought when experience the experience. Reading adds a richness to experience that as you said, is a sad thing for people who don’t do it. I’m glad I did. So when I pick up a classic, it’s like visiting with an old friend: as if we met for the first time. Enjoy the day!
I’m constantly asking myself that very question, or a variation: “What am I reading THIS fir?”, or “What fir am I reading THIS and not THAT?” I’m ashamed to admit I’m a bit of a promiscuous, undisciplined reader, like a kid in a candy store who just can’t make up his mind what to eat first. When you’re curious about the world and the people in it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the fascinating stories, fictional and non-fictional, waiting out there to be discovered. I guess I read to learn something I hadn’t known before or to see the world in a new way, through someone else’s eyes. Alas, one thing fir sure: I’ll never find the time to read everything I know I should (and once hoped I would!).
Thank you, Pete, for your comment. Actually, curiosity in reading is a good thing…and another characteristic lacking in many today. It’s the trait that gives you and others the ability to “filter” good literature from bad. Your thirst for knowledge is one that is insatiable. Like Dostoevsky said — ” more real than real life itself.” I was asked recently to review a non-fiction book for a project (PR), and couldn’t finish it. I got through 55 pages of the 400 and told the person I couldn’t do it. He wanted to know if I “digested” the themes, and have some sense of your conclusions and/or opinions. I told him I did, but didn’t need read everything to do that. He didn’t believe me and we parted ways. Long ago I worked for the ex-head of Devry advertising when I broke into advertising. Bill would sit at his typewriter and write post cards, catalogs, brochures. He smoked, smiled and loved his work. When I would walk into his office he would turn and grin saying, “Every word a pearl.” Unfortunately, the book’;s words were irritants that got between the covers and never made it to the pearl stage. Life is short…so keep reading!