The man who doesn’t read only lives once before he dies. The man who reads lives a thousand different lives before he dies. This is a quote from George RR Martin when talking about the value of reading and I believe this statement is quite true. To read is to see how other people experience life and how their perspectives shaped their lives.
Malcom X, black activist, was fiercely anti-white for most of his life. In fact, a majority was shaped through a tribal view of white man and black man. This man grew up in the 1920’s, where anti-black sentiment was far more deadly than today. Remember Michael Brown, the black who was shot and killed by police and kick started the Black Lives Matter movement. The most inconvenient fact that he was reaching for his gun before being shot and killed was revealed after a through investigation, an ignored fact. Or how, on average, white people are more likely to be killed by police than a black. Hence why today’s anti-black sentiment wasn’t as deadly as the 1920’s.
Back then, there were serious consequences, like how Malcom X watched as hoons set fire to his house and the police just stood by and watched. These constant acts by white people against blacks shaped his world view, to the point everything became tribal. Us vs them. Blacks vs Whites. Although I thought, as I read through the biography, it was a dumb view. If I had lived the life he had, then I’m sure I wouldn’t have been so different.
Reading about the lives of others can help us understand why people think a certain way. It can also help shape our own views, if we see the path someone else took to a particular worldview, then decide whether we want our own to be shaped like theirs.
There are limitations though. Somethings in life can’t be read about and understood properly. It’s only through living it can we experience something completely different. Like, experiencing the calming effects of the sea, the sights and smells. You just can’t experience the same thing through words, pictures or video. Not even VR can replicate that perfectly, it’d be nothing more than an imitation in the end.
Or the granduer and magnificence of nature and hikes. Objectively reading about hikes sounds terrible. It’s a tough climb to go up 50 to 100 meters. You see trees? Well, you can see trees virtually anywhere, what’s the difference? Or the view at the summit. So what, someone has a pic on Instagram don’t they?
What about living in small cities vs large cities. Reading about them sounds meh. A small city has everything closing early, where people rush around a lot less. A large city has things opened to till everyday and with everyone rushing towards their objective. Isn’t that the only difference? How can you explain the idylicness of the small city, the lack of any rush and the leisurely flow of time. Only through experiencing this could you properly comprehend what life is like in such a city.
One final limitation would be suffering. My sharehouse was 2km from the Central Business District (CBD) of the city. I used to run 2km everyday, so such a small distance is a breeze. I’d be a relaxing walk to see the CBD and the surrounding regions, oh so I thought. As I continued my walk, I looked to my right and thought it was odd to see a 2 story building in the heart of the CBD. When I looked a bit closer, it turned out to be 8 stories. At the nearby intersection, on the right was a enourmous slope downwards and then going straight up back to the same level I was standing on. I thought to myself, hah, sucked in plebs that need to walk that.
I checked directions to the sharehouse and realised I had to go right. It turns out that I was the pleb. So, with my 5 kilogram backpack and 10 kilogram suitcase, I struggled down and up that hill. At the very top, already out of breath, I cheered that the hill was done, it should be flat ground from here on out. Except, it wasn’t, the path just kept going up and up and up. Every time I stopped to catch my breath, I looked at the road and the inclines never stopped. Finally I reached a turning point and I thought the suffering was over.
Too bad hell had no depth. Turning my head towards the path google maps showed, there was a 45 degree incline upwards. Is this even legal? I had to double check the maps, just in case there was a mistake. There wasn’t… My backpack felt heavier as I climbed upwards. My arms were aching from dragging what should’ve been a 10 kilogram suitcase upwards. Each footstep up resounded with a thud of my entire existence. The path of suffering, as I named it, required multiple breaks every few meters. Then, finally at the top, at the telephone poll that marked the end of my suffering, was just more inclines.
Hell has no depths and the path of suffering proved that. Still, after just a tiny bit more, my suffering would be over and then it’d be flatland from there on. Surely, it can’t go any higher, right? Yet, again, I was wrong. The final road to the sharehouse was an incline. What I thought would be a leisurely 2km walk, turned out to be the depths of hell, well, at 150 meters of hell that is.
Merely reading about my suffering cannot convey the truth to you. Only through experiencing the pain through your arms, legs, and back. Walking down and up hills. Puffed out every few meters. Sweating profusely. And experiencing the weight of the universe as you take another step forward. The weight of your entire existence with every step could you truly understand the path of suffering.