We Are The Sum Of What We Read

There are numerous objects of demarcation between people who read, reason and write and those who do not.  Oftentimes these objects distinguish between those who live in residential areas and those on skid row. 


An observer sees these objects and begins to generate stories about their proprietors. The verdant lawn behind the automatic gate is a rich man’s picnic ground. The dirty bucket balancing on the cracked building-blocks under the zinc shack is a poor man’s well.


The observer makes assumptions about their learning, their language, about who is cultured and who is not, about who reads and who flinches at the sight of books.


More often than not, the onlooker who thinks along this grain is correct.


It is true. What we are is the sum of what we have read, understood and applied. A man’s life is an evolving portrait of what he reads. If he reads nothing, then surely, very little or naught will be his portion. “If you can’t read”, Booker T. Washington declared, “it’s going to be hard to realise your dreams”. Furthermore, “the man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them” (Mark Twain).

Dr. Ben Carson in his book Think Big says “…the base of personal preparation comes from reading than from any other source…the mind, once stretched by an idea, never returns to its original dimension”.


Take his word for it. Dr. Carson has used the words ‘Think Big’ to create what has become a world famous acrostic poem. The B in ‘Big’ stands for ‘books’ and the value of reading them thoroughly.  The best way to describe Dr. Carson’s ascension from rat-raging poverty to superstardom is to say that he read his way to it.


Avid reading is the surest route to the ‘residence of dreams’; the only first-class ticket to freedom from poverty, superstition, aloneness, ignorance. “Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book”, wrote nineteenth century British novelist Charles Kingsley “…a message to us from the dead, from human souls whom we never saw, who lived perhaps thousands of miles away; and yet these, on those little sheets of paper, speak to us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers”. 

Regarding the endemic disease which is ignorance, reading, with understanding and analysis, is the only antidote. Through books, the irenic is taken to minefields to re-interpret the virtues of Just Wars; the suicidal youth is made aware of stories of how common folk conquer great fears; the ethnocentric is introduced to rhythms of cultural relativity and holism; the oppressed and the oppressor learn of the value of freedom; the idealist meets the realist and the experienced; the uninformed becomes knowledgeable.


Ignorance, the opposite of knowledge, carries the burdens of the world. The perceptive reader, wherever he hails from, whatever his caste, will discover, in timely books, the keys to freedom from this curse. Once free, he will not be easily fooled and he will be able to add his distinct voice to the concourse swirling of ideas.