Learning to Read
I have said this before, but I am convinced the vast majority of a PhD is learning to read. Yes, yes, I know that to do a PhD you need to know how to read before you get here. However, what I mean is that in doing a PhD you learn how to read someone sympathetically. It is a skill I thought I had, but one I have realized I need to hone more and more each day.
Honestly, reading poorly is an epidemic. I see it on social media all the time. It is amazing how many times I will read someone responding to a lecture or a blog asserting that such and such an author or speaker said this or that. I then go to the originally cited source and either listen to the lecture or read the article, and while the author or speaker may have said what the person was critiquing, in context it is not nearly as controversial, unbalanced, or just plain wrong as it was made out to be. This type of reading only solidifies people into partisan groups and doesn’t promote any actual healthy dialogue around controversial topics.
As a matter of fact, I would argue that as Christians it is our duty to read well. One can point to the ninth commandment which says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” When reading or listening to people, it is our job to make sure that their argument is recognizable to them in our assessment of it. I remember the advice I was given by a senior scholar in writing a book review for an academic journal. The person giving the advice said that it is the job of the reviewer to make the author’s argument as good or better than the author made it before dissecting it. Too often our assessments are superficial and so clouded by preconceived notions of what the author or speaker is going to say that we are unable to actually hear what that person is saying.
My PhD has been a long process of learning how to read. I always thought I could read. However, what I am learning is that I need to get better at it. I need to hear the author’s argument sympathetically especially if I don’t agree with it. This doesn’t mean that I need to be soft in my criticism, but it does mean that it may take more than reading a blog, tweet, or editorial and responding right away. It may mean I need to think about what the author is saying and explore the context in which he/she is saying it before I am able to give an informed critique. In a world of the social media immediate response, the Christian duty to love your neighbor by not bearing false witness may mean that our responses are slower than everyone else. However, it may also mean that our responses aren’t knee jerk or uncharitable.