Reading encourages learning and empathy

Have you ever thought about what the act of reading means to you?

I’ve loved reading since I can remember. My mother always encouraged it and I could read very well by the time I started school.

I would often take home the book that was being read in class and finish it at home that day, eager for the next book and impatient that I would have to go over it again and again.

Descriptive writing

Reading is another way of looking at the world. The use of words that sometimes have little to do with the subject matter can vividly describe the subject matter itself. Poetry is a classic example of this. Reading and writing helps expand the mind, opening it out like a flower to encompass experiences and situations that we have no knowledge of and allowing us to grasp what they might feel like and look like.

An author must think about how she, or he, is going to describe a thing or a situation in a way that others will understand. Finding the right words is important in order to convey meaning. This necessitates analysing something to find the deeper meaning in order to be able to describe it. This exercises the mind. As with physical exercise our brains need exercising too. This is what keeps us fit, healthy and strong.

So, reading and writing help us to learn about ourselves and the world around us. They promote conversation, bring people together, and stimulate our minds. They are the stuff that anarchy, religion, philosophy and science are born of – and give birth to.

Emotional effect of reading

Reading also has a physical effect. We can laugh and cry at a story or written account and we can feel enormously happy or incredibly sad or angry. While we are reading something these emotions are very real in the experiencing, even though the situation is artificial. It is well known that emotions have a physical effect on the body and mind because of the production of hormones and chemicals.

Reading and brain development

I saw a programme on TV a while back that explored what reading can do to somebody’s brain.  The results were evidenced with the use of brain scans on people taken while they were reading. For a process that is not naturally learned, unlike speech and walking, it has an enormous effect. It exercises and increases memory, and it encourages a continuation of learning through trying to grasp the meaning of what is written.

Empathy and reading

Reading also helps us understand lives outside our own and helps us develop empathy through glimpses into other people’s lives. The capacity to recognise emotions that are being experienced by another – whether real or fictional – is generally innate in all of us, but not always.

Social influence of writing and reading

The programme also talked to people who were formally illiterate, or who may have not read much in their lives. Once they had found the right encouragement they began to read more avidly. One chap, a formal criminal, had even said that the more reading he did the more it made him think about the effect his former actions had on the people he carried out crimes against – something that had never entered his mind before.

The increased understanding of other people’s lives through reading had increased his capacity for empathy. In this particular case, something that had far-reaching effects on the social aspects as well as on him as a person.

This is the true value of writing and reading.