July 20th: Broadening Our Horizons to Deepen Our Understandings

When was the last time you read an article written by someone with a different skin color than your own? When was the last time you read a blog post offered by someone of a different sexual orientation? Have you ever read a sermon by someone who practices another faith?

We, as a society, have grown awfully comfortable living within the echo chamber of our own identity. We don’t know how to think from anyone else’s perspective outside of our own. It’s because we’re out of practice. The thoughts and perspectives of others feel dangerous because if they are right, it somehow means maybe I’m wrong.

On top of it all, we’ve so thoroughly pigeon-holed individuals that identity seems to be all we can talk about. Black writers examine race, women challenge gender issues, gays argue for the rights of marriage equality. Of course, it isn’t everyone, but we come to associate someone’s identity with their preferred topic of discussion. Somehow we have revoked credentials for meaningful discussion on too many issues begging for attention.

I want to know what a gay man thinks about the economy. I want to know what a woman thinks about steroid use in baseball. I want to discuss the enduring legacy of the West Wing with a Muslim, to hear how he thinks differently or similarly to myself.

Truth be told, I want to have these conversations not only despite their identities but because of them. Who we are influences how we think, and teaches us a great deal about what is and is not important. It’s time we embraced the idea that we aren’t always going to get along or agree, and to widen our horizons.

The written word has the incredible ability to allow one person to gain momentary access to the thoughts and feelings of another person sharing this earth. With our modern technology, it is only getting easier to collect and consume it all. What a gift we’re wasting if we only ever read things that come from “people like me.”

It’s going to be a little bit messy. Reading can lead to frustration and discomfort and unease, even to anger. But that’s the cost of sharing a world full of people who aren’t always going to see things my way.

I’m taking up the challenge. I want to learn more, to listen to new ideas and to be inspired by others to think differently. I want to engage in powerful discussions without the need to “win.” I want to participate in a great debate worthy of the innovation and freedom we enjoy. I hope you’ll join me.

October 26th: America’s Literacy Report Card

Reading is more accessible today than at any other point in human history. Books are produced more easily than ever, magazines seem to be everywhere. New media like blogging and digital publishing have made information easier to transmit and new technologies like tablets and e-readers make that information easier to access. Everywhere you look, there are access points to literature, news, academic writing, and more, at any place, at any time.

The Pew Research Center took a look at reading habits of Americans and discovered that, while the format and accessibility continuously changes and adapts, the amount of reading done by the average citizen is remaining fairly constant. Reading on tablets and cell phones is on the rise, while dedicated e-readers aren’t very common and aren’t growing any more so. Maybe most surprisingly, the study found that young adults actually read more often than do their older peers, while millennials are matching the reading behaviors of their parents and older generations.

This is encouraging data for a society that is constantly afraid of the erosion of a culture of learned scholarship. Access to, comfort with, and understanding of literature is, after all, central to the ability for a society to advance in positive directions. Throughout history, there are dozens of examples of places in which our written materials have not only withstood the test of time, but have fundamentally the way we think about who we are and who we hope to be. From religious texts such as the Bible to governing documents like the Constitution to literary fundamentals like Shakespeare, pen to paper has been the way that we, as human beings, have been able to understand ourselves and create something meaningful to drive our existence.

Literacy and a willingness to read lead directly to a comfort in writing. Now, not every participant in a society needs to be responsible for writing the next great text or manifesto, But, a culture that values reading and writing leaves the door open to allow for the constant evaluation and reflection that is inherent to a high-thinking society. As long as we continue to expose ourselves to new and diverse ideas, we remain open to inspiring our own creativity and ability to use language to reflect and, in some cases, change our experience of the world.