Embrace the culture of reading to conquer life’s challenges

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By Robert Okemwa Onsare

I have been in and out of the university in the past 16 years as a student. These moments have been punctuated by working in telecommunication companies and the media as a technician and writer. Every time I am back in class, I usually reflect on the university’s curriculum and industrial requirements.

Universities and the industry have distinctive roles; however there is a vast ground of convergence. In both, there is a quest to generate new knowledge, to innovate, to improve and use challenges as stepping-stones to confront the future.

However, an insightful look on how institutions of higher learning and the industry can position themselves to respond to dynamic challenges, such as unemployment, poverty, mismanagement of resources, food insecurity, moral degradation and diseases, can be summed up by developing an unending thirst for knowledge.

Prophet Hosea’s (in the Bible) lament is echoing across the country: “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” One of the surest ways of acquiring knowledge is reading, which ignites the mind to be more perceptive, resulting in a higher level of creativity, innovativeness and creativity in problem solving.

“It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds. … In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours,” William Channing, the poet, said.

Great innovators and entrepreneurs, thinkers and statesmen, writers and preachers, scientists and artists who have left a difference in the world are defined by reading – they had constant appetite for knowledge. Books make us to think, to see things from new perspectives and to formulate intelligent questions.

Since creation to the time of Sir Isaac Newton, fruits used to fall to the ground; but it took one inquisitive mind to question this phenomenon, which led to the discovery of the law of gravity.

A keen reader of the life of Newton, a premier scientist, can agree that was not an accidental eureka. It was an established culture in Newton – to ask, to read, to experiment on various concepts and to dexterously document.

When Newton was asked about the secret of his success, he said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” He stood on their (the giants’) shoulders by reading the great works of his time.

At times we struggle to reconcile how some people who hardly spend time in school have been able to rise to apex of excellence in their pursuits. Abraham Lincoln, who rose from the shackles of poverty to become the 16th President of USA, spent four years in school.

What was his secret success? He formed a fortified culture of reading, notwithstanding that he did not have means to buy books; he borrowed books as far as he was able to walk. He self educated himself to become a lawyer and a distinguished leader.

Lincoln stands as an inspiration that challenges can be turned into opportunities, stepping-stones for those who have embraced the culture of reading. Everyone is unique with enormous potential beyond imagination that can be exploited by reading.

Reading ignited the ingenuity in Thomas Edison, the inventor of the bulb and holder of more than 1,000 patents, as it did Sir Winston Churchill, Dr Ben Carson (who read up to two books a week), although they exhibited unimpressive performance in their early years in school.

Great books have the power of infusing audacity, fortitude and faith in the reader. With a fortified culture of reading, there will be streams of news ideas, new knowledge, new discoveries, amazing innovation, master pieces of art and creative works, new dreams and renewed vision to have appropriate solutions to challenges. Everyone can be a solution in search of a problem.

Mental culture

An inspirational writer aptly captures the power of reading and its transformative power.
“Upon the right improvement of our time depends our success in acquiring knowledge and mental culture. The cultivation of the intellect need not be prevented by poverty, humble origin or unfavourable surroundings. Only let the moments be treasured. A few moments here and a few there, that might be frittered away in aimless talk; the morning hours so often wasted in bed; the time spent in traveling on trams or railway cars, or waiting at the station; the moments of waiting for meals, waiting for those who are tardy in keeping an appointment – if a book were kept at hand, and these fragments of time were improved in study, reading, or careful thought, what might not be accomplished? A resolute purpose, persistent industry, and careful economy of time, will enable men to acquire knowledge and mental discipline which will qualify them for almost any position of influence and usefulness.” ^

The writer is a Collaborate to Educate Our Sons (CEOS), 2015, Essay/Poetry Scholarship winner, USA, and a student at the University of Eastern Africa, Baraton

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