Books and Thinking
The library is one of the most important places for me when I move to a new town. We sign up for library cards, check out tons of books, and join various book clubs and activities. People fill the building enjoying story hours for children, reading magazines in soft chairs situated under windows, while others are working on computers, and researching for jobs or projects. While sitting close to the reference desk I observed two men asking for help. The first man asked for books on cryobiology, and the second needed a cookbook for his wife.
I just re-read an essay in defense of libraries and reading. The writer wrote that reading is one of the most important things we can do. Libraries provide opportunities for everyone to read, regardless of income or life situations. I have seen homeless people taking shelter in the buildings, and yesterday I listened to a probably homeless lady reading a book out loud. She might have been a little crazy, but she was passing her day in a much better way than sitting out in the sun, and she was enjoying her book. Since I didn’t want to enjoy the exact same book, I moved to a different chair across the room.
Reading is important. Thinking is important. I had a teacher that was constantly telling us he wasn’t there to teach us biology, but his goal was to teach us to think. I always wondered when I would know I was a thinker, when I had learned the lesson and attained the skill. I wonder still.
I would like a method of measurement, a device that would let me know when I have reached the level of thinker. When exactly would I be ready to trust my ideas, my thoughts? When could I trust that my knowledge is true?
When we dedicate ourselves to a religion or a philosophy, we have to at some point choose to believe, to have faith in the thinking process that brought us there. When we dedicate ourselves to a life changing decision, career choice or life mate for example, we have to trust our thinking process. When we take one or another political view and cast a vote, again we have to trust our own reasoning.
We believe education is the answer. I do believe, yet educated people do not agree on matters of faith, politics or pretty much anything else.
Maybe all this education is not there to guide us to one exact truth. Educated and uneducated people believe in God, and also do not believe. Educated people, whatever that means, have voted on both sides of different issues. But, and this is what bothers me, if learning to think is the goal of a good education, if reading well and deeply is key to a good education, then why can’t I trust my thoughts, my decisions, my world view? Have I not given enough thought and study to the ideas floating around? Have I not read enough books? I love to read, but maybe I am not choosing the right material. I love to ponder ideas, but how do I know I am pondering well?
I think about the Civil War, and the men running to join up in service of the good cause, on both sides of the war. These were people willing to kill, and to die, and they were serving apposing sides of the conflict. This was the war known for pitting brother against brother. Even people raised in the same household had been known to choose opposite sides in the Civil War.
Perhaps achieving the goal of thinker isn’t going to lead us to a specific truth, but instead will guide us in the way we arrive at these decisions. Truth is found when we are honest to our own thinking even if our truths may be different. I am not satisfied with this answer, but I think it is the best I can do. We are only able to know the things we know. So many decisions have to be made based on our best understanding of a subject, and perhaps the reading we have done, the ideas we have been exposed to, perhaps these things will guide us and aid in our sifting of information. I can only hope that to be true.
At least with public libraries, we all have access to good literature, history books, newspapers, and whatever else we choose to fill our mind with. We do not live in a closed off society, we can feast on words every day. I guess the biggest danger of this is junk food, reading things that do not help in developing our minds, our ability to think and reason. Still, as long as we have the option to choose the books we are going enjoy, we have a better chance of growing.