You Are What You Read


We all know the essential truth of the statement, "you are what you eat," because we see the impact of poor food choices on our waistline. After yesterday, we also know you are how you use your body!  However, a similar truth applies with what you put in your mind when you read.  Too much junk in yields flabby thinking and faulty reasoning.

If you're a regular on this blog, you know I quote books and hoard information tidbits like a hamster preparing for hibernation. (One of my favorite things about having kids was I had an excuse to buy more books.)

However, for all of my reading, about eight years ago I intentionally stopped reading newspapers and trade magazines (and their electronic equivalents) and I've never missed them.  I had just finished  The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample where he persuasively argues that reading the news of the day is mostly a waste of time.

Sample's take is more measured and, frankly, more dull than the classic passage from John Irving in A Prayer For Owen Meany:

“Newspapers are a bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food. What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news—the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life! I offer this as self-criticism; but what it means to be "political" is that you welcome these obsessions with cheeseburgers—at great cost to the rest of your life.”

If you're an information junky, the idea of strategic reading sounds ridiculous.  Feeding the reading appetite with any and everything IS most of the fun.

In his book Sample tried an experiment for six months where he wouldn't pick up a paper.  Instead, he let others tell him about big events of the day. He knew what kind of filter the person bringing the news had, and he said there was a great satisfaction in letting someone else sit in the seat of "educator."

As a result, he not only saved time, he gained connection.

Sample used his "found" time to read what he describes as "Supertexts" or books that had stood the test of time.  He reasoned if he wanted to think differently, if he really wanted to be innovative, he wanted to make sure his understanding of human nature was solid.  He wanted to read texts which stood the test of centuries of commentary.

"In these tempestuous times it often appears that everything is changing, and changing at an increasingly rapid rate.  In such an environment a leader can gain a tremendous competitive advantage by being able to discern the few things that are not changing at all, or changing only slowly and slightly.  And nothing can help him do that better than developing a close relationship with a few of the supertexts. . ."

 And what are the supertexts?  Anything hundreds of years old  - - Sample cites:

The Pentatuch Psalms The New Testament Plato's Republic Dante's Divine Comedy Shakespeare's plays Sophocles plays Machiavelli's The Prince

His list is more extensive, but you get the drift.  Like so much else in life, keeping the pace of the crowd isn't necessarily to your benefit.

Slowing down, reading less may, in practice, yield more.