Why I Don’t Read…

14 05 2010

I have a pretty horrible secret to divulge.  Please do not judge me too harshly when you read this:

Yes, it’s true.  I don’t read.

The truth is I would much rather watch Glee and talk about its layers of character development or write a paper on the symbolic nature of the characters in the Lord of the Flies without actually having to read the book.  I realize books open up conversations, provoke thought, and are sources of inspiration, but for some reason, I can never voluntarily sit down and read for an extended period of time.  I would much rather sit down with a really good friend and talk for hours about people, philosophy, religion, politics, fundamental beliefs, and core values.  Anything important or interesting to that person that helps me understand them more.  It turns out that I prefer conversations over books because conversation is what I’m good at and love to do.  It turns out I’m in my Element when I’m having these talks, and ironically, it took reading a book to help figure that out…

The Element, according to Sir Ken Robinson, is the intersection of passion and aptitude: a talent that you realize you love so much that you are willing to dedicate hours every day doing it.  Professional singers are willing to spend hours of their day doing warm-ups and exercises to stretch their voice because they cannot imagine doing anything else.  This concept was already ingrained in me by my mother, who said that I should always pursue a field where half my efforts can yield double the results rather than spending time in a field that I do not love and am not good at.  I realize that I sometimes want the accomplishments and recognition that go with singing or acting or writing or a myriad of other fields in which I have some minor talent, but if I were truly passionate about these endeavours, i would be more than willing to spend a lot more time honing these skills.  They are simply masquearading as Elements.

Sir Ken talks a bit about how to identify one’s Element.  He talked about being in the zone, where hours in your Element can feel like minutes.  Sir Ken is in the zone when he gives presentations to an audience, big or small, and he can feel the pulse of the room.  Being in your Element gives you energy and you want to do it every single day.

After some good ol’ soul searching, I realized that what I love to do…is talking.  And listening, too!  More specifically, having conversation.  But it’s more nuanced than that…

That’s why books are hard for me, because to me they are monologues: authors have their say, but they are free to ignore my opinions, and there is only so much I can understand about their thoughts and motivations through interpreting their work.  I would much rather probe their brains in real-time, through conversation, where I can analyze not just their words, but their facial expressions when they try to steer the conversation to what they want to talk about, the way their hands move or don’t move when they’re excited, how their methods of communication subtly differ when talking to me as opposed to someone they know well.  I would want to get at their philosophies and ideas, but I find such thrill in the subtext of behaviour and tone.  In his book, Sir Ken talks about how to be in your Element, you have to be also comfortable in the medium that your work is done, whether that is the spoken word for slam poets or the canvas for painters.  I realized that text in books are facades for the authors that I cannot read very well, but human faces, bodies, and voices in conversation constitute a medium that I am quite comfortable in.

My good friend, Mr. Robert Winson, told me once that someone’s passion does not have to be as simple as becoming a doctor or a lawyer or even an executive producer.  One’s passion is not necessarily just to save people’s lives or defend the innocent or produce movies that change people’s perspectives of the world around them.  Passions are deeper than that, more complex and less capable of fitting into a box.  Whereas a lot of people enjoy talking, my passion lies specifically in the power of conversation in shaping new perspectives for the individuals involved.  There’s a give-and-take there.  You divulge your viewpoint, but you never leave a conversation the same person you went into it as.  Most conversations are enzymes.  Particularly good conversations generate new insights that neither of us thought about before; we’ve challenged and bettered understanding of our own values and beliefs, as well as that of each other’s; and we realize the reasons behind our feelings towards the topics and people we’ve discussed.  I want to have these life-changing conversations everyday for a living, understanding people and leveraging my aptitude to help individuals grow and change disruptive or destructive ways of thinking into more constructive ones.  I do not know if that’s what a psychiatrist does for a living, but I shall find out!

Sir Ken talks about a moment of epiphany when one discovers one’s Element.  Finally, for me, my interests all make sense.  A lot of people think the tv show Friends is silly fluff (and I agree to some extent) but I loved it because of the complex interactions between the very different characters; and it is also a study of American culture in action.  I love tv shows over movies because they allow for long-term character development.  I love singing because it has a unique, still-not-completely-understood power over people’s emotions.  I love acting because it’s a study of character motivations.  I’m naturally drawn to lessons in anthropology, sociology, and spirituality because they are topics related to the nature of how culture forms and sustains its influence over time.  Suddenly the seemingly unrelated parts of my life seem to form a unified whole.  Feels good.

I want to take a tangent here and touch on something else in the book.  Sir Ken briefly mentions different kinds of intelligence than the typical linguistic or logical-mathematical intelligence that is typical of Mensa or other IQ tests.  I was never exceptional at these tests.  I think my lack of patience in doing something I find boring and impractical had something to do with it, but ultimately, these tests are the popular standards for intelligence and I did not feel overwhelmingly encouraged after taking them.  Just learning that there are other types of intelligence (dancers possessing kinesthetic intelligence, musicians having their own intelligence) gave me greater self-confidence and reaffirmed my belief that everyone has a unique set of experiences and aptitudes that should be respected and admired and discovered, regardless of whether their particular skills or experiences (or intelligence) match my own.  I wanted to share this diversity of intelligence not because I agree with the exact categories or the number of intelligences, but because I hope that it will help others appreciate their own gifts and realize that we’re all “smart” in very unique ways, whether we were raised to think so or not.

Learning about interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence finally put names on experiences I’m inclined towards and aptitudes that I’ve always thought I had but was never sure that they meant I was intelligent in any way.  Now I can be more certain that understanding people’s motivations is both my passion and my talent.  Thus, Sir Ken would agree that I should be devoting my time doing research for and pursuing my element.  And that is why I don’t read.  I’m just spending all my free time chatting with friends, meeting new people, and discovering the extent of my Element…=).  Honestly, though, I think there is great value in perusing books, and I am actively engaging in that now.  It’s the reason why it’s taken me so long to post a new entry – my reading skills are rusty…

So…in the interest of helping me conduct research to better understand interesting people – tell me: what is your Element?

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