Monday, December 7, 2009

The Need to Read

Last night, slightly drunk and in the 32nd floor of the Hilton past midnight, I had a sort of epiphany about books and how beautiful of a thing they are as I was gazing upon the New York skyline.  I hope this post doesn’t sound too weird or out there, but then again, I AM very weird in a lot of ways so, to certain people, it probably will.

I started talking about a practice that Buddhist monks do where they make a beautiful piece of art using colored sand as the medium.  Of course, this is a very ephemeral way to make art, and that is the point.  After it is completed, they mess it up and mix it away like an Etch-A-Sketch.  It is to remind themselves of the importance of being able to appreciate beauty in the moment and to train themselves not to get attached to a beautiful thing, as all beauty, from their perspective, fades and is impermanent.

Whether you agree with this or not is unimportant.  I freaked myself out a bit as I was looking at all the buildings and thinking that each and every one of the buildings was done by people, but specifically many persons.  What I mean is to stress that the term “people” are made up of individuals.  A better example might be to think of a company.  While some think of companies as non-human entities, a company is made up of people running and directing it. 

Anyway, each of these people had spent years and decades of their lives amassing knowledge about architecture and construction.  When they died, their brain and all this knowledge was rubbed away just like the sand art.  Dissolved forever. 

I think the most beautiful thing in the world is the mind of someone about to die.  The only way that any knowledge can be preserved is if they’ve chosen to write about their perspectives and insights.  Also, today, people can leave behind things like video and audio.  The works they leave behind here on Earth, be it movies they’ve made, buildings they’ve help erect, books or poems they’ve written, technology they’ve helped pioneer or ideas they’ve contributed, are all that is left. 

It’s also important that this be done first hand.  If the insights someone has had are merely handed down verbally to another person, the OTHER person will ultimately present it through the lens he or she sees the world, and not how the ORIGINAL contributor of ideas did.  Honestly, I think it is a real tragedy that someone like Jesus never wrote any of the books of the Bible himself, especially considering there is so much bickering over what HIS perspective on many issues was.

As a society, the only reason humanity has progressed beyond a hunter-gather society is because we are able to absorb and apply the ideas and technology of those before us.  If not, every generation would be starting from scratch and getting, for all intents and purposes, nowhere. 

I don’t like telling people how to lead their lives because they are their own lives to lead and discover who they want to be.  But if someone is not reading or considering other people’s ideas regularly, he’s short changing himself enormously and volunteering himself to figure the world out from scratch.  In my mind, it’s comparable to living your life without electricity and trying to discover it on your own.  Most any problem, issue or confusion a person has has been written about somewhere.  It’s pretty silly not to utilize it.

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