“I cannot understand how some people can live without communicating with the wisest people who ever lived on the earth.” Leo Tolstoy

Recently I listened to Stolen Focus by Johann Hari which is a must read for anyone with a pulse…. Well, at least anyone with a phone. The author shares his eye-opening and very personal journey to understand the world’s diminishing ability to focus. It’s absolutely worth your time. I don’t think it’s hard to convince anyone that we spend too much time looking at our screens. But one statistic blew me away – 57% of Americans don’t open a book. I’m genuinely sad about that. I am convinced that books are one of the most effective ways to see the world through the eyes of another. How else can we communicate with the wisest people who have ever lived?

According to his research, the digital screen has changed not only how much we read, but how we read. Sitting down with a physical book is much less likely to bring pleasure. Our minds are constantly interrupted by thoughts of what’s going on without us online. We comprehend less on a screen and have lost our patience for complex topics and in-depth writing.

Hari argues that “the medium is the message.” The medium is the lens through which we see the world. Looking at the different forms of communication he offers the following:

On Television the world is fast and focused on surface appearance.

Twitter teaches us not to focus on any one thing for too long and that the world should be understood in short simple messages. What matters most is whether people immediately agree with you.

With Facebook, life exists to display edited highlights to others and someone is your friend if they regularly look at your highlights. What matters most is if people immediately like these highlights.

For Instagram it’s a matter of how you look on the outside, how you look on the outside, and if people like how you look on the outside.

Whether you agree with his assessment or not, I think most will admit that these forms of communication often do not represent reality. Spending significant amounts of time with any of these mediums will alterhow we see the world. But, how do you want to see the world?

I love to read books because it helps me to think deeply about complex topics. Thanks to Johan Hari I now understand why it makes sense to read the unabridged edition. Books help me to slow down and see that my opinions should be based on as much knowledge as possible, rather than talking points, “expert summaries,” or something I read on the internet. There is value in focusing on one topic for long periods of time and seeing how others live their lives and how they think.

Hari states, “Reading creates a unique form of consciousness that directs attention outward…. Exposing yourself to complex stories about the inner lives of others, over time, repatterns your consciousness, making you more perceptive, more open, and more empathetic.”

I have never looked at novels like this, but it makes sense. Novels are particularly valuable in understanding other’s lives and developing empathy as our life experience is so limited. Reading novels allows you into the minds of those you will never meet, never interact with, and who’s experiences you will never have. We need more empathy, collectively and individually.

I have thought a lot about the concept of seeing the world from the view of others, especially the view of those we disagree with. Often we rush to judgement. We are dumbfounded by the thoughts and actions of others. What if seeing their life experiences differently changes the way we see them? Could we be a little more accepting? A little more compassionate? We don’t have to change our beliefs or actions, maybe just the idea that our way to see the world is the only one and it may not even be the best….

I love this thought from the poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Some of my favorite books that have changed my view of the world. Please share with me the books that have changed yours! Or better yet, comment on the Blog.

Fiction –

The Henna Artist  – Alka Joshi
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

Non-Fiction –

Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis – Robert Putnam
The Warmth of Other Suns – Isabel Wilkerson
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City – Matthew Desmond
The Line Becomes a River – Francisco Cantu

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  • Hill
    2 years ago
    One of my all-time favorite books!! He’s the reason why I try to consciously stick with one task at a time and see it through before I move onto the next thing. He says the average attention span stretches less than 3 minutes😳