I still remember sitting in my first literature class at Lee University. I was completely overwhelmed. We sat in a small room circled up discussing a text we had been assigned to read. I had read the material and felt prepared. The professor sat back and let us take it: fresh-faced college freshman with our novels, coffee, and ugly sweatpants. It was going to be a simple discussion with friends…and then the discussion actually started.
I quickly realized I was out of my league. There were a handful of students who just seemed to be on a different level than the rest of us. How had some of these students reached these conclusions? Where did they see the author said that?! The author’s purpose? Hidden meaning? They spoke so eloquently! I left that class feeling so utterly unprepared and wondering if we had even read the same book. How did this particular group of students seem to be able to comprehend on a different level and so clearly argue their points they even had the professor engaged? As we became the tight knit group of just a few English majors at Lee, I learned their backgrounds, their schooling, and realized they were trained thinkers and speakers who read every piece of literature they could get their hands on.
Teachers at CLA have been reading Albert Mohler’s The Conviction to Lead and discussing a few chapters each week. Mohler states reading is essential for leadership intelligence. I would argue he is selling it short. Reading is essential for developing intelligence in general. Reading is so powerful; it shapes your mind, character, and communication.
First, reading shapes your mind. There is a wide world of reading out there. The genres and subjects are endless. You can deepen understanding of just about any topic by reading a book relating to your topic of choice. Most choose literature to read based on their interest level: teachers may choose articles on newest teaching strategies, doctors on latest technologies, boys on their favorite author’s newest book, etc. But how do you expand if you stay in your comfort zone? Choosing books you normally would not, opens your mind to a whole world of knowledge.
On the other hand, constant reading of your favorite topics deepens your understanding. Both scenarios are extremely beneficial. Mohler calls it “a constant flow of intellectual activity” (100). He also compares reading to eating. Would you settle to eat the same kinds of food day after day after day? You would get sick of it! You would also get sick if you ate only junk food all the time. You need a well-balanced diet, a variety of foods, things with substance, and yes, of course, your occasional treat. It’s the same with your reading. Changing up your content keeps reading fresh and a new adventure every time you pick up a book.
One point I must add from Mohler is the value of “old books.” The classics. He quotes C. S. Lewis: “Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old” (103). These are the books that have survived generation after generation. They have proven their worth. That’s why we choose to read these novels at CLA instead of modern readers. There is something to learn from the classic novels that cannot be taught by any other source! Do not neglect these in your reading rotation.
Next, reading shapes your character. Every story has a conflict, a problem that must be solved. From novels to your morning newspaper, problems are presented to you daily. You must learn to think critically, filter what you are being told, and identify the actual issue. Critical thinking is developed like a muscle: you must use it and exercise it in order for it to grow. Once you have identified the problem, you are forced to take a side. This is where your personal character comes in to play. No form of writing challenges this like fiction writing.
Fifth graders at CLA read Tuck Everlasting and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. One novel requires students to think critically about living eternally on earth and the other on race issues and how to treat our fellow man. Whether they realize it or not, they are shaping their worldview on major topics. Their convictions are being challenged, or maybe even being developed, simply from a story. In the same way, reading a character’s struggles can teach a lesson of what not to do or show how to overcome with dignity and grace. Think back on your own experiences. What sticks with you more: being told what to do/what not to do or being told a narrative that you can remember and identify with?
Finally, reading shapes communication. Language is a gift from God. This gift allows us to communicate with each other and God himself. It is a goal of CLA to produce students who can think critically, yes, but that’s only part of it. You must also know how to clearly articulate your thoughts in both written and verbal forms. If we go back to those timeless pieces of literature, you see beautiful usage of language. Those authors who have proved themselves credible for years and years are masters of creating imagery and touching the reader to their core with printed word. As the reader exposes himself to great writing over and over again, it sticks and becomes the model used to produce his own writing. Mohler argues, “The most effective leaders are collectors and connoisseurs of words” (92). There is a reason vocabulary and reading lessons go hand in hand. Literature is the best place to be exposed to a plethora of words. Having an extensive vocabulary prepares you for communicating well no matter your audience or purpose.
Mohler raises some great points on the importance of reading, but this does not just apply to those of us looking to be great leaders in our respective fields. Reading is essential to all who want to grow in mind, character, and communication skill. Therefore, I challenge you to read. Read a lot! Read a little of everything. Just read.