Friday, January 19, 2007

Not Thinking Enough Causes Us Grief

To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.
- Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)

We have no trouble with people not digesting enough. Obesity is shockingly in evidence in almost every country, with developed countries at or near critical levels.

We do, however, have a problem with reading. The Canadian government recently released a study showing that only six percent of Canadian adults reads more than three books per year. (Canadians and Americans usually score similarly on such surveys.) When you consider that many people must read a variety of books just to remain up to date with their profession, their interests or even their love of recipes, that percentage is extremely low.

People do read, of necessity. Television news programs often force viewers to read what the presenter does not speak, but is offered as extra material. Medical prescriptions come with data sheets that should be read to ensure that the patient can regain health (not lose it) as a result of taking the medication.

New electrical or electronic equipment always comes with installation and safety warnings which should be read. Ingredient labels on packaged foods allow us to know what nutrients we buy and ingest so we know whether to avoid them or not.

The prime motivator for people to read today is the internet. Fully half of North Americans use the internet as their primary source of news and an even greater percentage use it a their major source for other information.

Like it or not, we read. Whether we reflect is another matter.

Low voter turnouts for elections in western countries show that few people care enough about the results to read about the candidates before an election. Dissatisfaction with those elected suggests that those who voted may not have read enough about the people they voted for.

Perhaps one of the reasons why religious institutions in western countries are losing more members than they gain is the fact that attending most services requires reading of several passages from books. We may believe in God, for example, but we couldn't tell anyone what the religion we were raised in teaches about the subject today because that would require reading and thought.

What Burke meant by "reflecting" we might consider as thinking about what we have learned. Judging by how easily people are deceived by advertisers, charlatans, politicians, service businesses and anyone who claims to speak on behalf of God, we don't think nearly enough about matters that affect our lives deeply.

We even ignore health warnings about materials such as tobacco that we are told will likely shorten our lives. We hear people say "I'm not sick now, so I guess it won't affect me." Then they die years before they would have otherwise.

It would serve us well to think more about what is important about life and spend less time thinking how to spend our money.

On the final day of our life, what will be important is not how we spent our money but how we used the time allotted to us. On that day, if not before, money no longer holds any importance.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the differences.
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