Without doubt, knowledge is the foundation of all civilizations. Reading is an integral part of the civilization process, because it is the medium through which knowledge is imparted. Civilization entails not only being able to read and write, but also adopting values that promotes a better understanding of self and forging good relations with fellow human beings. Reading allows individuals to re-examine their own principles and values by interacting with the ideas and narratives recorded in books. At the same time, reading has a psychologically motivating and calming effect under situations of stress, boredom and depression. For instance, reading novels and other literary texts connects the individual to a world different from their own, thereby helping them to escape the harsh realities of their present situations. In this regard, it is arguable to contend that reading not only empowers, but also possesses curative powers for the mind.
In his book, The Dark Night of the Soul, Richard E. Miller uses the example of a shooting tragedy to illustrate the dangers of ignoring the values of reading and writing in favor of more visually interactive technologies. Miller advocates for a return to the simplicity of reading novels as they offer opportunities for deeper human interactions as opposed to video games, because books cannot draw you into a visual and imaginary fantasy land as video games do. He proposes a future of schooling where teachers and lecturers would train students to be critical thinkers, writers, readers and activists with a greater appreciation of the written word. He argues that “If there is to be lasting hope in the future of higher education, that hope can only be generated by confronting our desolate world and it’s threatening, urgent realities” (Miller 27). Confronting the world’s threatening realities should involve promoting a reading culture geared toward the realization of interracial and intercultural harmony and self-appreciation.
In Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, Azar Nafisi observes that reading is a magic that can transport us into “worlds and times” that we will never reach in our real world (Nafisi 5). She narrates the story of young Iranian girls who dreamed of a better world beyond their restrictive Muslim culture, which they experienced through reading. Reading also conditions the mind positively by instilling positive attitudes and perceptions, which in turn help the individual to attain psychological stability (Thondup 25). In this regard, reading allows individuals to understand who they are, their culture, and how to relate with others. Achieving this goal will be a cure to the many problems that ail the world today such as illiteracy, poverty and wars. It will also heal the individual from the negative effects of poor self-esteem as a result of perceiving one’s culture/race as inferior to others. In addition, reading allows individuals to confront life’s challenges by adopting a positive attitude towards life.
The thought that reading could possibly make us emotionally and physically stronger began as far back as Plato’s time, who was the classical Greek philosopher. A clinical psychologist, Marcus Mottley, quotes Plato in his rationale for using reading/ literature to heal patients, saying that “poets gave us the arts not for mindless pleasure, but as an aid to bring our soul circuit, when it has got out of tune, into order and harmony with itself.” He further adds that “the Greeks got this right long ago, evidenced by the fact that Apollo was the god of both poetry and healing” (Mottley). In this regard, reading has a spiritual value since it connects the reader to the metaphysical world. Thus, it transforms the reader both emotionally and spiritually by arousing his/her emotional senses positively.
Bibliotherapy, as this has now come to be known, has been gaining popularity in the rehabilitation of patients with physical, emotional and/or mental issues. Patients suffering from psychological disorders such as former soldiers who have been affected by traumas experienced in battle fields as well as depressed/emotionally unstable patients have found solace in writing or reading. Reading allows them to interact with others and intellectually process and find closure for the traumatic events in their lives. Reading imparts power to confront seemingly insurmountable challenges. As Norman Brown counsels, “We should read for power…..the book should be a ball of light in one’s hand” (Brown 6). In addition, reading is not limited to self-help books alone; fiction, poetry and plays have been found to be just as effective, if not more effective, at individual and collective healing. When one reads a piece of work, which may speak to this person’s/group’s emotional condition, they immediately feel a connection with another who feels in this way and it has been shown to have great effects in treating individuals with depression, grief, divorce/separation and loneliness. Many self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous incorporate bibliotherapy into their course of treatment. As Mottley writes, Bibliotherapy gives the individual an opportunity to:
- Relate to the main character in the work and their situation
- Find an emotional connection that reveals their feelings
- Realize that their problem has a solution, and process those solutions
- Develop positive outlooks and optimism in their lives (Mottley).
In conclusion, reading is a powerful means for self-understanding and understanding others better. Reading novels, for instance, allows the reader to re-examine society’s values and how social pressures affect individuals from different cultural backgrounds. In turn, the reader gains a better understanding of society and how to fit in it. The curative effect of this understanding is that it enables individuals to reconcile their life expectations and ambitions with societal values, thereby helping create harmony in society.