Sorry! Reading won’t help you instantly

Books; knowledge
Image: Themba Jay Consulting

What does reading — and the learning it comes with — have to do with developing patience? Answer: Everything! Jonga, when you read and learn a new word or piece of information today, you might use it a few months later.

I am reading a scintillating novel; astoundingly well-written and the author lyrical in his writing. Every time I bury my nose in it, I get transported to where the story unfolds. I live in the city of Johannesburg but at reading time, I find myself in Qolorha, a village in the Eastern Cape province. I do everything with the book’s characters. I live, eat and sleep with them (lose the dirty thought!). I often find myself laughing aloud during amusing moments or gasping for air when something tragic occurs in the story.

The book invites me into the divided community, into the warm and cold homes of the villagers. A community divided into Believers and Unbelievers. To shed a little light, divided by two girl prophetesses — Nonqawuse and Nombanda, later joined by a third one, Nonkosi — who proposed that the amaXhosa people kill all their herds of cattle and leave their fields unharvested. This instruction, according to the girls, was sent by ancestors who instructed them to pass their message to the people. The result being that all the people who had died will arise and come back from death with new cattle, and send the imperialists packing — a complete rebirth of sorts for the amaXhosa nation. On a few occasions, because of the sharing nature of the community, I’ve been invited to a few feasts and celebrations some families have organised. I go through the emotional highs and lows which prevail in the story.

I am absorbing so much knowledge about the ways and customs of amaXhosa. I am learning how they lived during South Africa’s colonial times.

Often when I am in conversation with other people, I mine out and use knowledge I always assume I’ve long forgotten. Say, I pick up a word from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and it unconsciously slips its way into my conversation piece two months later. When this occurs, I blab on in total ignorance of the word I just used — usually I’ll get surprised after a few minutes. Then I’ll wonder if I used the word correctly, and start analysing, quite frantically, the sentences to suss out whether the word was in the right context.

The point is, reading books, blog posts, news articles and whatever else, will not help you and improve your life instantaneously!

To depress your enthusiasm, the gnawing thought: time wasted will never be regained, sits at the back of your mind. You read now, and reap the fruits of that knowledge later. Some time you don’t know. I am certain you’ve had a couple of surprising moments when you were writing something or speaking to another person. You’d be writing and out of “nowhere”, use a word, phrase or information you’d seemingly forgotten. That’s because the human mind recalls a lot of information stored subconsciously when the need arises.

This works the same in other issues in life. Steve Jobs once spoke about his dropping out of college and eavesdropping in a Calligraphy course, which he did not have an interest in. He certainly hadn’t a clue how it would help him later in his life. A decade later, when they built the Mac computer, it all came together. Apple was able to innovate and design the most beautiful and proportionately spaced typefaces for their machines. The calligraphy skills and know-how proved useful after all.

Jobs summed up the experience spectacularly with the following words, extracted from his 2005 Stanford University Commencement address. He said: “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

So, just go ahead, pick up that book whose content seems far removed and somewhat inconsequential to you. The human brain is a powerful and phenomenal tool ever created. You never know when the information will come in handy in a life-changing situation in the future.