Reading is central to everything. It is the foundation upon which we build our lives. The best principal I’ve ever received was to read, read, and read. We all have a right not to have a degree but we have no right not to have an education. We can all finish formal school, but we can never finish our education. A college education allows us to get a job but a life of reading allows us to understand the world.
I was never a reader. As a child, I “read” books of no more than 40 pages, most of which were filled with pictures. A little older, I read nonfiction books here and there on Ancient Egyptians, American Aboriginals, world mysteries and animals. But, I never finished them. In high school, I hardly walked into the library, only when I was forced to. I hardly ever opened my textbooks. I used to quip, “each textbook became the new floor of my locker.” I abused spark notes. I was a slow reader. I couldn’t follow a plot. In short, for the first 18 years of my life, I hated books.
It never occurred to me that books without a plot existed. No one ever introduced me to the second half of the library. I never knew that Harvard psychologists, Caltech physicists, Nobel Laureates, presidents and founding fathers wrote books. That is until I turned 18.
When I turned 18 my oldest cousin introduced me to “The Alchemist.” And from then on, my life changed. I became conscious. I wanted to read every book on the planet. I regretted that I hardly read before, but i wasn’t going to let that stop me. So, I fervently hunted down the New York Times bestsellers, the Amazon bestsellers, the Pulitzer prize winners. I loved reading so much I started going to the library. In fact, I used to arrive at the library before some librarians did. I even repeatedly opened the door for one of them. I was stuck to those old chairs. No one could pry me from them, not even an earthquake. Then, an earthquake hit! Books rattled off the shelves. But, there I was, unmoved. As stated before, for my first 18 years I never finished a book. By 23, I finished over 300. What follows is a plea on why you must read.
The old adage, “The more you read, the less you know” is a myth. What’s more correct is, “The more you read, the more you realize.” Or, “The more you read, the more you can see.” Warren Buffett, multi-billionaire, had this attitude. He said, “The more you learn, the more you earn.”1
Those who do not read their speech remain dull. Those who do, their speech grow exquisite and fervent. Before I go any further, I want to point out that when I speak of reading, I don’t mean reading fiction. I am strictly speaking about non-fiction. Most people read fiction rather than non-fiction. But I invite, request and plea that you read more non-fiction than fiction. In other words, be a seeker of the truth.
Seek The Truth
A seeker of the truth doesn’t automatically accept “truths.” He examines everything for himself. The foundation of the seeker is patience. The truth will humbly retire if you are well-read. As Gotthold Lessing once said, “The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud. If God were to hold all Truth concealed in his right hand and in his left only the steady and diligent drive for Truth, albeit with the proviso that I would always and forever err in the process…I would with all humility take the left hand.” Nietzsche conveyed the same idea, “I love him who lives in order to know.” As did Malcolm X, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for.”
Education is a lifelong process. Before Nelson Mandela could change the world, he went through a long educational process. All the greats did. There is no such thing as having “arrived” in knowledge. Yet, most people think exactly that. They never open up a book after university. For that reason, they remain stuck in the era in which they graduated. They are like a time machine representing the old and forgotten. Instead, you should be eager to learn, love to learn even lust for it. Be a life-long learner. Make it your passion.
If you hide your ignorance, you’ll never learn. Admit your ignorance and you’ll flourish. Marcus Aurelius, the 6th Roman Emperor, had it right. He said, “If any man can convince me and bring home to me that I do not think or act aright, gladly will I change; for I search after truth, by which man never yet was harmed. But he is harmed who abides on still in him deception and ignorance.” Don’t let your understanding be based on ignorance. Subdue this malignant disease. Goethe said, “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” The adage that “ignorance is bliss” is a myth. Far from it. Malala Yousafzai said it best, “Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected.” Daniel Boorstin, a historian, took it one step further. He stated, “The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents, and the oceans was not ignorance— it was the illusion of knowledge.” Meaning, false security is worse than no security. It is better not to know than to be content with the wrong answer. If I don’t know something, I Google it, YouTube it or head down to the library.
If you want to accomplish anything in life you must learn to think at a deeper level. Philosophy is indispensable for this. It will train you to think for yourself, to think outside the established framework and to suspect and question everything even your own ideas and what your leaders declare. In short, it will teach you to doubt. Jim Rogers, multi-millionaire, said, “Most of the things you are told are going to be inaccurate, reflecting a lack of knowledge or a distortion of information, whether on the part of the government, a company, or an individual. You cannot take anybody’s word for anything.” Educate yourself so you can protect yourself. There came a point in my life where I doubted every “fact” conveyed to me. At this point, I was closer to the truth. Finally, I understood how the truth is made. Permanently, I understood how a hypothesis turns into fact. This is the beauty of reading.
We shouldn’t live by one book, but by many books. I like to quip, “I haven’t read 300+ books, I’ve had 300+ teachers.” Each with a different point of view. Each reinforcing my knowledge or breaking it down. Remember, there’s more than one point of view. Don’t follow someone’s point of view, but learn them all. In other words, don’t be a follower of one. Be a student of all. A follower reads one book and thinks he knows everything. A leader read them all.
So, get out of the trap of right and wrong that schools promote and look at the world from as many perspectives as possible. The more perspectives you can see, the more intelligent you are. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald epitomized this. He said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
With each field I’ve delved into -be it science, politics, investing, creativity, history, happiness, health, relationship- they each gave me a different lens in which to see the world. History is a special one. One can view history through more than 11 lenses: technology, economics, innovation, war, political theory, religion, war-technology, agricultural-technology, psychology, evolution and energy. In short, the more you learn, the more you’ll see.
Robert Kiyosaki, multi-millionaire, said, “Intelligence is being on the edge of a coin. On the edge, you can view of both sides…The most intelligent people live on this edge.” If your mind is open to opposing ideas, your intelligence will go up. If your mind is closed to opposing ideas, your ignorance will go up. To make a rational argument, you need to know both sides. In other words, a follower reads one side and is content. A leader reads both sides and is intelligent.
Some people get angry with books that preach the opposite. But remember, knowing what works is good. So is knowing what doesn’t work. In your library, you need a book by Ghadi and one by Hitler. Good and evil. You need to study health and illness, capitalism and communism, religion and atheism. You must study both sides. It’s the only way to strengthen your intelligence. One book will tell you one perspective and another the opposite. Eventually, you’ll know who’s right. Remember, there’s joy in thinking. To think is the greatest moral virtue. It’s the first moral virtue. Education’s job is to challenge you. So pick up the hard books.
Don’t make a conclusion from one book. Read a plethora of books and then make a conclusion. As Alexander Pope eloquently said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.” Plutarch agreed. He said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” On days I don’t read, I feel depleted. Samuel Johnson agreed. He said, “It is by studying little things, that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.” Gandhi had the same attitude. He asserted, “I could come to only one conclusion: I should make a dispassionate study of all.”
Reading occasionally is not the true practice of a reader. A true reader “drinks deep.” Remember, practice makes perfect. Thus, to be a true reader means to practice reading. There are always new things to learn and things that we have previously learned but needs to be re-learn. In the last book we read, we might have overlooked a concept, but when we re-read it, now it forms the foundation of your life. As Nietzsche fervently said, “Wisdom is a woman, and always loves only a warrior.” Paulo Coelho echoed the same idea. He said, “It’s only those who are persistent, and willing to study things deeply who achieve.”
Martin Luther King Junior loved reading too. He said, “I catch up on my reading every time I go to jail.” Malcolm X echoed the same mindset, “Until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge. I knew right there in prison that reading had forever changed the course of my life…You will never catch me with a free fifteen minutes in which I’m not studying something. Every time I catch a plane, I have with me a book that I want to read and that’s a lot of books these days. Where else but in a prison could I have attacked my ignorance by being able to study intensely sometimes as much as fifteen hours a day? Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, naturally, I read all of those…I’d put prison second to college as the best place for a man to go if he needs to do some thinking. If he’s motivated, in prison, he can change his life.” Malcolm X read so much that he started wearing glasses. He goes on to say, “An English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, ‘What’s your alma mater?’ I told him, ‘Books.'”
“Today I read more, study more, and attend more classes,” said Kiyosaki, “Real life experiences inspired me to learn more. Although I am a poor and slow reader, I plow through complex financial and business books few people would choose to read…Use your brain or lose it.” Things change so fast that the number one skill is to learn and keep learning. It is the learner who will inherit the earth.
Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” And, “With intellect more developed and with more reading I shall understand it better.” Benjamin Franklin stated, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Mandela echoes the same mindset. He said, “Although I am a gregarious person, I love solitude even more. I welcomed the opportunity to…plan, to think, to plot.” Jim Rogers knocks it out of the park with, “My approach was to study as much as was necessary until I knew the subject and then study some more just to be sure. It was the approach I took to everything…There is no such thing as enough. You just keep studying or keep working, or keep researching, whatever the task happens to be. Call it discipline, call it diligence, call it work ethic.” Children exemplify this mindset. They are naturally curious and hence make great readers.
You should be reading and absorbing every single resource you can find—books, trade journals, newsletters, websites, blogs, as well as taking classes and attending lectures and conferences. Learn. Learn everything.Jim Rogers said, “Economics is major, everybody should major in economics.” Study the past. It will enable you to make better predictions about what may happen. If you understand what’s will happen, you’ll know what to do.
Thinking no one can teach us anything is arrogant. Thinking someone can teach us everything is naive. Drink deep my friends. Every book can teach us something even if we’re well versed in the discipline. If one thinks they’re too cool to read then the world weeps for you. Remember, the coolest person is the one who can leave his opponent stunned by his eloquence.
Learn from others. Read their books. Be a PIG; a Professional Information Gatherer. As Jim Rohn said, “Being broke is bad, but being stupid is worse.” In other words, being intelligent is much better than being rich. Remember, any fool with money is soon a fool without money.
A book isn’t a one-time event but a friend. George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Robin Sharma, Mark Twain are all in my office right now, sitting on the shelves. I can converse with any of them anytime I want. My greatest teachers are people I’ve never met and most I will never meet. Carl Sagan had this attitude. He said, “Books permit us to voyage through time, to tap the wisdom of our ancestors. The library connects us with the insights and knowledge, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, with the best teachers, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history, to instruct us without tiring, and to inspire us to make our own contribution to the collective knowledge of the human species.”
A book isn’t worth the price you pay for it. A book may cost 20$ but that doesn’t mean it has 20$ of value in it. A good book is worth much more than that. It may be worth 200$, 2000$ or 20,000$ in value. The price you pay is for the publisher, the writer and the designer. The lessons within? That’s priceless.
Literacy, Criminality and Money
Literacy levels and income has long been known to be correlated. 43% of adults at Level 1 literacy live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5.12 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels. 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts. Girls between the ages of 16 to 19 at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.”12 Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average.13 Studies also show that intelligent people live longer.10 On top that, criminality and literacy are also correlated. 85% of all juveniles who approach the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. And, more than 60% of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.12 Wake up fellow citizens. Stand guard at the door of your mind. Read good books.
U.S. literacy falls below the PIAAC International average and it ranks 16th out of 23 countries.11 The highest paid public employee in more than half the states is a football coach.8 Nearly 10% of college graduates thought “Judge Judy,” is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. And, less than 20 percent of the college graduates knew the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation.9 Fyodor Dostoyevsky couldn’t have said it better, “These…men unhappily fail to understand that…to sacrifice, for instance, five or six years of their seething youth to hard and tedious study, if only to multiply tenfold their powers of serving the truth…such a sacrifice is utterly beyond the strength of many of them.” If you’re unmotivated, you won’t know much.
The saddest fact in the world is that most people can read, 89% world literacy rate, yet the average American reads 5 books per year.1,2 Mark Twain said makes a bold and unwavering point. He said, “The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” What’s the point of being literate if one doesn’t read? A wasted gift! It’s a tragedy to think of all those people that not only don’t read but can’t read and wish they could. We are the only species that can store knowledge outside of our body. We have a gift. So, use it.
The average CEO reads 60 books per year.3 Is it any wonder that they earn $16.8 million per year?6 Books will turn you into a millionaire. Sagan couldn’t have said it better, “Knowledge is a prerequisite to survival…Evolution has arranged that we take pleasure in understanding…That is why the brain library is some ten thousand times larger than the gene library.” He continues, “Learning…[is] widely recognized as the road out of poverty.” Malcolm X echoes the same idea, “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” Books are hidden treasures.
Information And Change
We drown in information but starve for wisdom. Remember, knowledge is not wisdom. And, memorization is not understanding. Seek understanding, not answers. Don’t hold on to useless facts. Getting rid of uselessness is what learning is. I can condense everything I’ve learned into two words: freedom and science. In fact, I can condense it to either one because they will inevitably lead to the each other. Freedom will lead to science and science will lead to freedom.
Our current situation reflects what we know. To change our lives, it follows, we must change what we know. As Einstein said, “No problem can be fixed from the same consciousness that created it.” New ideas changes lives. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor. Books introduce these new ideas. The only way to grow is to consume them. When we stop consuming them, we stop growing. Success builds on intelligence. And, education is the engine of personal development. Without books, you’re not living. You’re just allowing the same mindset to continue. So, feed your mind and seek profound knowledge. If you keep that up your mind will be nourished and quenched.
As humans, we need food. But, we also need words. Food is good for the body. Books are good for the mind. Words give the mind life and insights. Remember, it’s not what happens out there that matters, it’s not what happens inside that matters. It’s what happens between your two ears.
Most of us want to change the world. But to change the world, you must first understand it. Once you know what’s right and wrong, who’s good and bad, then you can change the world. Education is all about transforming the world and not maintaining it. As Malala said, “Let us pick up our books and our pens…They are our most powerful weapons.”
During the slavery era, African Americans were not allowed to read. Slave-owners understood that once they read, it would spark a fire within them, that they would demand their freedom. They knew it would liberate them. As Carl Sagan said, “Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom. But reading is still the path.” Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and poverty because of reading. Nelson Mandela, that same year, echoed the same idea, “Only mass education would free my people…An educated man could not be oppressed because he could think for himself.”
Tyrants and dictators have always understood that literacy, books and learning are dangerous to their regimes. British Royal Governor, William Berkeley said in 1671, “I thank god there are no free schools nor printing; and I hope we shall not have them these next hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy and sects into the world and printing has divulged them and libels against the best government.”4 Regimes hate knowledge. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, burned all the books in his kingdom in 213 BC after he founded China. On top of that, he buried 400 scholars.5 Christianity, Islam and countries such as Pakistan and North Korea are still banning books.14,15,16 Why? Because, as Ray Bradbury said, “[Books]…show the pores in the face of life.” Because they show the truth. Because they liberate us.
In closing, as Sagan said, “The health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness…and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” To develop your mind you need a good library. Have the best library of anyone you know. Let it be a testimonial to your dedication to education. You don’t have to have read all the books in your library. In fact, you shouldn’t have read it all. This is an old and ineffective library. Your library is supposed to be filled with books you haven’t read. This is a good library. This is an effective library.
To your success,
P.S If you enjoy reading, books and seeking of the truth. You’ll love this website.