Our greatest gift — Reading

There’s a saying in my country which is not very easy to translate into English. It goes like this: “God is giving, but he (or maybe she?) will not put anything in your pocket”. It’s quite similar to “God gives the milk, but not the pail”.

As humans in this worldly society we have an amazing gift that is taught to us by other humans: reading.

Reading is the essence of knowledge and knowledge is the bliss of our soul.

It is not only a gift, it is a power: the absolute power to capture knowledge passed on to us by others and, after we have accumulated enough, to share it back into the society, either freely or for a purpose (ideally without a financial reason). Aside from that, we now live in such amazing times that not only we have the freedom to choose what, who and when we read but we also have amazing tools with which we can access knowledge of any type in such an easy manner that a new phenomenon has occurred: knowledge is so accessible and free that is considered for granted, yet it has lead to diminished value.

A lot of people, especially young ones, are not interested in reading anymore. It’s not cool to read. They don’t want to read because it’s boring. They have no concept of value from reading because it has not been taught to them. They regard reading as the air around them: free, available to all and granted, therefore uninteresting. I’m talking about shared or passed on knowledge, not revealed knowledge obtained from introspection or meditation. The power of obtaining knowledge through reading has been commoditized in such a way that it bears the resemblance of the value of a product in respect to its value versus availability: the more useful it is and the harder to obtain, the more financial value it has. Therefore obtaining knowledge from reading is not valuable, since we are walking around with the greatest source of instantly available information in our pockets. The biggest library humankind has ever had access to in a conscious way.

Yet this amazing device that allows us to obtain such vast amounts of FREE information and knowledge has allowed us, through the attention harvesting power of social networks, to be constantly bombarded with huge quantities of information that provide no intrinsic value for our soul. Don’t believe me? Look below, I believe the image paints the perfect picture of what I mean.

I remember when my parents were telling me that they had to smuggle books and VCR’s into the country to read or obtain knowledge about something that the communist party considered dangerous and therefore banned under pain of prosecution and jail. Because intellectuals were considered a lower class and a dangerous one. They, through their ideas and concepts, were a critical threat to the very foundation of the communist society. The physical, hard working, industrial class was regarded as the blood that was pumping in the nation’s veins and this class was idolized.

“We work, we don’t think!” was the proud motto of the working class. I mean it when I say proud, they were actually proud of working and not thinking.

I remember the fear and disappointment in their eyes when they were telling me these stories, yet a spark of rebellion still flickered in those 60 years old gentle and kind eyes. They felt proud because they took the risk to access that knowledge, even if it might have thrown them in jail or even worse. They knew they were taking huge risks, because surveillance was everywhere and anyone could’ve been an informant (even your spouse or member of your family), but the pursuit of knowledge and information somehow served a purpose higher than their physical well being and they followed it relentlessly.

Also this pursuit for obtaining knowledge, passing on and receiving information, stemmed from such a strong desire that it literally rewired their brains. They did not care about their well being anymore, they did not care about what harm they could encounter on their journey, they just knew they had to know more and more.

And to support this claim, let me tell you a story: there was a group of people I found out about who met regularly to discuss on different topics, like politics (the only topic on politics that was allowed back then was strictly related to all the ways one could praise the communist party, everything else meant prosecution, jail time and forced labor). All of these people were highly educated and pursued self knowledge with an adamant desire. About 10–15 in the group, they discussed and did everything that was not allowed. Such as democracy, movies and culture from the west, trade books that were banned, being allowed to travel outside the country and maybe not get back (this topic would have sent you to jail and forced labor instantly) and such other ideas. They always had to change the venue of their meetings because they couldn’t stay too much in one place, someone could have bugged the room or an informant might have been among them. But at one point, an informant actually managed to infiltrate. He regularly participated and sat through their meetings without actually contributing, just listening. He was this grey character, a chameleon figure.

The interesting part is here: everyone knew he was an informant. Everyone knew about him. But they kept doing it and avoided him as much as they could. Even after several members of that motley crew were kidnapped and beaten almost to death by the security forces of the party, they didn’t stop. They couldn’t. Their pursuit for knowledge and reading was a mission, a purpose, not a regular activity.

So how are we supposed to once again reveal the critical importance of the power of reading and attaining genuine, authentic knowledge for our evolution as human beings and our society? How can we empower reading once more and sharing valuable knowledge, aside from the everyday assault of meaningless information?