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MONTERREY--The Solution For What Ails Our Nation

Read a Book! Here's Why

Debbie Monterrey
October 25, 2018 - 7:06 pm

by Debbie Monterrey,

America today: a nation of angry finger-pointers yelling at those idiots on the other side of the divide. At least, that’s the way it feels to me lately, and that’s a hard thing to admit as a natural optimist. 

My solution: take a deep breath and read a book. Preferably, literary fiction.

What our society is lacking right now is empathy and compassion. Calls for civility are useless if we can’t see the humanity in other people. 

Quite simply, those who read books have higher emotional intelligence and a greater ability to look deeper than a stereotype. There is actual scientific evidence of this. 

But Americans are reading less and, aside from its devastating impact on our emotional intelligence, it’s impacting us in many other ways as well.  

SAT reading scores in 2016 were the lowest they’ve ever been. No doubt because the number of 12th graders who said they hadn’t read a book for pleasure nearly tripled. In 1980, 60% of 12th graders said they read a book (or newspaper/magazine) outside of school assignments, every day. In 2016, that number was 16%.

My current reading stack! Photo by D. Monterrey
My current reading stack! Photo by D. Monterrey

Late night TV shows and comedy specials find a gold mine in walking the streets stumping everyday people with simple questions about history, geography, politics etc. that should be common knowledge, if only people read a book or paid attention. 

One reason the United States of America has been responsible for creating most of the amazing inventions of modern history is our ability to dream and imagine. Well, news flash. We’re losing that, too.

A nation that used to read used to dream. A nation that used to read would imagine. Think. Ponder the possibilities.

Today, if most people read at all, it’s just snippets of news and information on their social media, mostly aggregated toward already held beliefs that further entrench people in their us vs. them mentality. 

Today, our constant, fidgety busyness is an imagination killer. We simply don’t know what to think about without our electronic devices feeding things into our brains. You rarely see someone people-watching or staring at the clouds. Everyone’s faces are in their phones.

Read. A. Book.

How can reading help us?

In a study published in Science, two scholars from the New School for Social Research in New York found that reading literature boosts “the capacity to identify and understand others’ subjective states.” 

In other words, reading novels increases our ability to understand the complicated people we come across in every day life. It helps us take the time to look beyond our knee-jerk first impressions and better understand and interpret their mental and emotional states. It helps us to see people different than us as three-dimensional human beings with backstories, instead of broadly drawn caricatures who can easily be demonized.

People who read literary fiction tend to show more compassion and patience for people. 

I know I’m just spitting in the wind here. How can I possibly reverse runaway trends? As a lover of books and reading, even I find it difficult to find the time to read as much as I used to. I set yearly goals for myself and struggle to reach them, but it’s so important to me to try.

The good news is, another study shows that watching high-quality, award-winning TV dramas can have much of the same effect on your brain as reading literary fiction. And for the same reason: it helps us understand the working of someone else’s mind. (Although, people who read and have compassion have a difficult time finding patience and understanding for those completely lacking in compassion and understanding. The one caveat).

In conclusion, I firmly believe that people should step away from social media and dive into a novel. If you can’t do that, then step away from the cable news shows, Kardashians and sports and watch a quality TV drama.

Who knows? You just might help save the world. Or at least, make it a little bit better. 

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