Monday, September 27, 2010

Dangerous Ideas

It’s Banned Books Week, wherein the American Library Association encourages readers to think for themselves, and read a challenged book. I am, as you can imagine, against censorship. (Not every book is appropriate for every age, but I think there’s a difference between, say, putting a book on higher shelf in the library and removing it so no one can read it.)

I have firm convictions about how I live my life (or at least how I try to), but tend to be broad-minded when it comes to the whole universe. Both those things come from being an avid reader. I was lucky. My parents always encouraged me to read everything, think for myself, and find my own truths by reading a wide spectrum of ideas in literature.

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Books are full of ideas, but ideas are only dangerous when they are limited. Reading across the spectrum of ideas and ideologies helps us to form our own. I’m baffled by the idea that one book is going to convince someone (even a young someone) of a point of view completely opposite from how they’ve been raised. People don’t read one book and convert to that idea, then read another and convert to THAT way of thinking. We spend our formative years gathering a whole lot of idea--from books, movies, tv, our friends, teachers and parents--and forming our own philosophies out of that. I have to wonder, if parents are talking to their kids about these things in the home, why are they so worried their going to be swayed by a story in a book?

When we read a lot, and maybe some things that are way far out from our experience, our personal philosophies, our notions of right and wrong (because that’s really what people are worried about when they censor books) become stronger, not weaker, because they’ve been built on a broad foundation.

Books don’t break down beliefs, they temper them. The weak and groundless ideas are broken by the notion that there’s another side to an issue. The worthy metal is hardened by the challenge. When I read something that runs counter to my faith or philosophy, and it makes me question why I think the way I do, it makes that conviction stronger, and able to stand up to a real life challenge. This is why it’s so important to read books outside of our comfort zone. Books make us questions what’s bad, what’s good, and what we’d do in a given situation. We live bad decisions vicariously so we don’t have to make them.

Are there some books that some kids aren’t ready to read? Sure. Are there some books that need to be discussed with a parent, to help a younger reader answer the questions raised? Oh, definitely.

Ideas ARE dangerous, but instead of worrying that a kid is going to read an Dangerous Idea in a book, maybe parents should arm themselves by reading a few Dangerous Ideas, too. The way to counter something you disagree with isn’t to lock it in a box, but to diffuse it with discussion, to mix it up with other ideas until what emerges is someone able to make their own decisions because they’ve got an armament of information to draw upon.

So, go fight the good fight against group-think. Arm yourself with a few Dangerous Ideas. Read some Dangerous literature.

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