Thursday, April 14, 2016

Discussion: Has Reading Helped Shape Your Worldview?

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2016 Discussion Challenge.

It’s no secret that I’ve spent a lot of my life reading. I read for several hours before I go to bed each night. I read during the day while I work as an acquisitions editor for anthologies and literary journals. I’m in my final year of graduate school, so that means even more reading. All of this reading has led me to wonder if books have shaped my beliefs about the world.




There is some evidence that books have an impact on people’s behavior. A few years ago, there was an article in Scientific American about how reading Harry Potter can make children and young people more tolerant toward “out-groups.” Out-groups are social groups (such as immigrants or homosexuals) that a person does not consider themselves a part of.


Judging by the hateful stuff I’ve seen on the news recently, I seem to be much more tolerant of out-groups than a lot of Americans. But, I have no idea if I developed this tolerance because I obsessively reread Harry Potter as a teen, or if my tolerance came from another source, such as my awesome parents.





It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where I got my ideas about the world, but it’s probably safe to assume that books had something to do with them. It’s difficult to spend hours with your brain inside your favorite book and not have the themes of that book seep into other parts of your life. Books have themes for a reason, right? They’re supposed to encourage the reader to think about the world.


It’s obvious that people believe that morals can be learned from stories. There are whole genres of books that are meant to teach and reinforce religious beliefs. The first fables were created thousands of years ago to teach children important life lessons. In modern times, book-banning in schools and libraries is common because parents believe that it is dangerous or inappropriate for children to read certain books. Even though Harry Potter can teach children tolerance, it is one of the most banned series on the planet. Many parents believe that it encourages children to practice witchcraft and disobey authority. 


   


I wondered if stories had any role in shaping my morals. To find out, I started looking at the themes of my favorite childhood books. I was a big re-reader as a kid. It wasn’t unusual for me to read the same book 3 or 4 times in a row. I examined some of my favorites and noticed that a lot of my personal beliefs do line up with the themes of the books, but I have no idea if that’s because the books influenced my beliefs, or if it’s because the themes are fairly universal, or if it’s all a coincidence. Or, maybe I already had the ideas before I read the books. I don’t think there’s any way to know for sure.


There is one instance where a book may have influenced my worldview. Again, I can’t be totally sure. When I was a teenager, I read What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci. The novel is about a teenage girl who meets someone called Lani. She’s not sure if Lani is a girl or a boy, gay or straight, a teenager or an adult. As the narrator gets to know Lani, she starts to suspect that Lani may not be human. Lani could be an angel. Unfortunately, the rest of the town can’t see past Lani’s outward appearance, and Lani faces some brutal discrimination. This was the first book I ever read that had LGBTQ themes. Before I read What Happened to Lani Garver, I had never thought about what it was like to be judged for your gender or sexuality.





Shortly after I read this book, one of my friends came out as gay. I grew up in a religious town, and I had never met an openly gay person before. The reaction that some of my classmates had to my friend’s sexuality was awful. I was bullied in school, but it was nothing compared to what my friend went through. I had never seen people treat another person so horribly.


I think the combination of reading the book and seeing what my friend went through helped me become more tolerant of out-groups. Just because someone is different from me doesn’t mean that I have the right to treat them badly. So, maybe books have had an impact on my worldview.


What about you? Is there a book that has helped shape your beliefs?





18 comments:

  1. I've never thought about it, but you're probably right. I've wondered how I grew up in such a small, religious town that tends to hate anyone different, but came out being a very tolerant person. The other day I was thinking about my reaction the first time I met a couple gay guys in high school... which was basically a non-reaction. We were just friends and it was never a factor. My family and I couldn't be more different as far as these things go and I think it's probably because I was the only reader in the family (until my brother got older, but we're 6 years apart in age). Amazing post!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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    1. Thanks! One of the reasons that I wrote this post is because I wondered how I ended up with different beliefs than the people around me. I think that reading might have had something to do with it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I think that my love of reading may have played a part in how serous I take freedom of expression and how much I loathe the p.c. police.

    But I also think readers seek out books they like and agree with, for lack of a better way of putting it.

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    1. I agree that readers seek out books that confirm their beliefs. A few years ago, I tried to read a Christian book, but the book vilified Buddhists, and I had to put it down because it was getting on my nerves.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. I don't know how reading may have influenced how I look at the world. I really don't have anything to compare my current view against. I do think that books can help the reader get a different point of view in a way that television just cannot do. People who read a lot are constantly learning as well. Great post!

    Carole @ Carole's Random Life

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    1. Thanks! I also have no idea how reading has shaped my worldview because I don’t know who’d I be if I didn’t read.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. Now that I'm in my sixties, I can see that reading not only taught me about countless things and events and experiences that I would not otherwise know about, but also helped to shape my world-view (along with my upbringing, my faith, my associates and many other factors).

    I think that if you read a great deal, you are fooling yourself if you think that what you read doesn't influence how you view what you read about, and the greater world beyond it.

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    1. Agreed. It would be hard to spend so much time reading and not have it influence how you think.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. I think books had a huge hand in shaping me as the person that I am now. Really, though, it didn't happen until a bit later. Of course there were the Harry Potter Books, which began their debut in America when I was in 6th grade. It most certainly had an impact on me, but more on my creative world and less on my moral one. My moral world was certainly forming at that age, but I really think as a young kid books don't influence you in that way as much as they do when you're older, when you can ponder on the deeper meaning of things.

    "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck was probably the first book that ever had a tremendous impact on my actual person. That book opened up entire new worlds to me and was a huge catalyst for my decisions to pursue Anthropology and Linguistics in College. These days, I love the book for nostalgic reasons but I no longer passionately love the story like I used to.

    However - Fairytales, Fantasy, Magic, and Mystery have been my deepest loves since I was a little girl, and reading those types of books growing up, then reading them still as a Young Adult, then reading them EVEN STILL throughout my twenties to now... yeah, I think it had an impact on me in a huge way and I've loved every second. I was taught through these books that there's so much more to life and our universe than meets the eye, so much more that we can't know or understand but it's AWESOME anyway. "Faith, Trust, and a Little Pixie Dust" became the mantra. I wouldn't give it up for anything, and I can't wait to introduce books to my kids. :)

    Awesome discussion post. Here's to books continuing to influence us forever and always! *glass clink*

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    1. Thanks! I love your mantra. I’ve heard about “The Good Earth,” but I’ve never read it. It sounds like I should check it out.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  6. I definitely think that reading can change and shape our world view, AJ! And if we read a novel that is well-written, we can walk a miles in someone else's shoes, feel their emotions, understand their fears, and realize that while we might be different, we're all still human. And that must somehow also make us more tolerant, I'm sure!
    Of course, I think having tolerant parents and friends help for that, too, but books will influence me just as much, I'm sure of it.
    Also, I think that having read across many different genres, with very diverse characters, I am even less judging than I was before, and it's gotten a lot harder to shock me, too ;)

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

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    1. It’s pretty hard to shock me, too. That might be because I read so much horror and dystopia.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. I completely agree with you. Books can completely affect the way you look at the world. It is a great way for kids to feel that they are not alone when they might not see anyone like themselves in real life. It is a way for kids to learn how to treat others when they don't have good role models for themselves. I think one of the reason I was so scare to ever try any drugs was because I read "Go Ask Alice" the journal of a girl who becomes quite the junkie and the things that she did to get her drugs. "Jay's Journal" is another book that I read that was journal based that really showed me a different life than the one I led.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Rabid Reads

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    1. I’ve read both of those books, but I read them as an adult, so I don’t think they had a huge impact on me. I have heard a lot of people say that they were scared away from drugs after reading them as children. That’s interesting.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. I definitely think that reading has influenced my worldview and made me much more tolerant of difference. When you read a book, you experience the world through someone's eyes and you empathize with them. It can really open your eyes to the thoughts and feelings of someone different from you!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. One of the reasons that I like reading is because it shows me that people who are “different” from me really aren’t all that different. We’re all human.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. YES. Absolutely! Reading has basically changed so much about me and I'm ever so grateful. I didn't spend a lot of time reading until I was about 16? So before then I didn't think for myself very much. Reading actually taught me to think for myself and develop my own beliefs and for that I am 10000% grateful. And as lovely and awesome as my parents are, they aren't extremely tolerant of out-groups, but I absolutely am .... so books get the blame (love!) for that too. *nods*

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    1. I think reading has helped me develop my own beliefs and to question what I’m told. Books show characters with so many different worldviews and the consequences of those worldviews. Books have showed me that one person’s beliefs/actions can make a difference in the world.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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