A few years ago I posed myself with a particular question; if there was one message you could pass on to future generations what would it be? My answer: to read.
If there’s one thing my father instilled in me deeply as a child it is the importance of knowledge and reading. Although he grew up in a developing country in Africa his parents made sure he, and his 8 siblings, spent all their free time reading. Special occasions warranted a trip to their father’s study to pick out a book as a treat for good behaviour or excellent grades at school. I was lucky enough to be brought up in England; a developed country. Nonetheless, every day when my father would pick me up from school as a young girl and we would do the 30-45mins car journey home, my father made sure the first thing I did was to read my school book which was my assigned homework for that day. Although at times I would moan about this, as all young children do at the mention of homework, I now am eternally grateful that he pressed upon me the significance of reading because it developed my imagination and opened my mind and made me the person that I am today. As the years went by I was labelled as a book worm and a geek at school and although at the time, again, as with most children, these incidents seemed to be life or death situations, I now look back and think I couldn’t be prouder of the child I was, of the child my father made me through telling me of the importance of reading.
A few years ago I noticed a fashion trend developing in western culture. It was originally labelled as the ‘preppy’ look in which young teens began to wear chequered shirts and black framed (non prescription) glasses. This look was soon idolised and recreated by teens everywhere. However, traditionally this was the same clothing that geeks had worn in the 80s/90s and were ridiculed because of it. The irony was now that the same teens who went out and bought these clothes were probably the ones making fun of the ‘geeks’ in their school who didn’t own this fashionable gear. It has now been re-branded as the ‘hipster’ look and in fact a whole culture has ensued around it. It is considered cool and trendy to be donning ‘hipster’ gear. It is now desirable to be quirky and different and unique, all things that the kids of my generation were chastised for being. I find that quite interesting, if not somewhat insulting. I wasn’t and am not a geek; previously a derogatory term, for its fashion benefits nor for the admiration of its culture within society. If I am to be considered a geek, regardless of how I am to be perceived because of this label, I would hope that I am considered one because of my enjoyment for reading and intellectual debates, not because it is the ‘cool’ thing to be! However, I digress…
Last week my brother and I started to discuss the notion of an afterlife. The conversation comically began with him arguing that he believed a ghost used to inhabit his room as it was always cold. Since it had now ceased to be an icebox, he could only assume that the ghost had found peace and moved on. At this point in the conversation I informed him that I didn’t really believe in ghosts, or demons or possession. I stated that I’ve always liked the idea of reincarnation and karma. If you’re a good person then you are reincarnated into an even better life; if you’re bad then you are reincarnated into a life of despair or difficulty. I also said that perhaps there could be a heaven or hell however. My brother said that he could see a possibility in reincarnation but not in a heaven or hell. I then argued that I felt that the reincarnation theory contradicted the idea of ghosts however as your soul would simply take on the form of something else in the next life rather than being left to aimlessly wander around on earth without a purpose. I said I thought that would be a fate worse than hell. He then suggested that perhaps that is “hell”.
Although it had been a light hearted discussion over breakfast between my brother and me; the topic itself played on my mind for a few days following the debate. It caused me to further question my beliefs on reincarnation. As I was watching television one morning an advertisement for a charity for disadvantaged and suffering children in Africa came on. As expected I felt a sense of guilt as the images of hunger stricken children passed across the television screen. However, a thought suddenly occurred to me. If I believed in reincarnation, then were these children suffering hardship because they had been bad people in a previous life? Should I then, in fact, not sympathise with them? I then wondered whether they would be able to reason this notion to themselves. Do suffering children wonder if they are suffering because of sins they may have committed in a previous life. At this point my brother informed me that of course they wouldn’t be able to have those type of thoughts as they wouldn’t have had the education or knowledge to even be able to ponder such theories.
And so, it comes back to books. To learning. To the importance of knowledge over all other things. I am incredibly grateful to have had the upbringing I had. To be able to have the understanding that I have through my reading of certain books. To have a father with such a broad perspective and open minded view of the world and to have passed on his knowledge to me. I count my blessings everyday for having been brought up in a developed country where I have the free will and the choice and the opportunity to read a multitude of books. I am incredibly privileged to have had the standard of education that I had. I appreciate all these things now more than ever because they have shaped the person I have become. Perhaps its karma and these blessings are somehow warranted. All I know is that I certainly don’t want to take them for granted, and so, if there’s anything I would tell future generations it would simply be ‘to read’. For reading leads to understanding.