Picking up a book by an unfamiliar author written about a topic we had given little thought introduces us to another way of seeing, a different world view. Taking the plunge to read a viewpoint opposed to our own and written with at least as much passion as we hold on the subject is an act of derring-do.
The communal animals that we are, we seek out those who support our way of thinking, our values, our lifestyles. We want understanding, so what simpler than choosing to surround ourselves with that which we already believe? Assuredness builds as we read article after book after blog, all saying the same things that reinforce a belief. Confident in our rightness, with so much support behind us, we do not feel the need, the obligation really, to challenge those ideals.
Politics and religion are heavily populated shelves in any non-fiction section, yet it is rare to find the reader who selects from opposing perspectives to gain ones own. The art of self-definition lies not in strengthening what we hold dear without consideration, but to strive, seek and explore to gain deeper knowledge and perspective. Reading the thoughts and arguments laid out to dispute all that is held dear is frightening, like walking into a cave without a headlamp. Fumbling about in the darkness of a concept so foreign and threatening, it is near impossible to read openly. The effort is a worthy one. After reading with an open heart and mind it may serve to crystallize one’s thinking, or it may open a crack in the most entrenched belief to encourage further thought and exploration.
Apply this not only to the non-fiction shelves but to the genres of the fiction section as well. Stepping out of the norm to read high quality literature of a genre that is unfamiliar can challenge beliefs as well. Reading science fiction or fantasy, written in a strong literary style ala Orson Scott Card or Mary Doria Russell can carry the mainstream fiction reader into worlds and ideas unknown.
Stepping out of the comfort of unoriginal thought requires fearlessness and trust that one’s ability to analyze, reason and decide are strong enough to be challenged and open enough to a unique view.