Monday 4 December 2006

Isn't He A Bit Like You And Me?

I’ve said enough of the kind of people I call “bookworms”. In fact, I have a lot more to say about them, but one question has now arisen for me, that is what I really think of them. It certainly takes me much time and effort to give a satisfactory answer, because the matter itself I think should be seen from different viewpoints.

So I will start first with the assumption that I am eligible to talk about marco management issues of a society. It sounds ridiculous for an individual to say “we Vietnamese should do this, while we Vietnamese should not do that,” etc. so I must express my opinion based on this assumption. IF I WERE someone in high rank and responsible for “building an advanced culture soaked with national identity”, as the CP often put it, I would do very little to especially encourage the so-called “culture of reading”. It’s not because I am against reading and those who read, but because there are always dozens of the same things that need encouraging for a better Vietnam: why not the culture of listening to classical music, of enjoying paintings, of communicating, of car driving, etc. that are given priority? By saying this I don’t mean that we should give top priority to these cultures over reading culture. I would rather treat them the same way.

Additionally, when we come to human capabilities, the undeniably fact is that each human is strong in one or two specific aspect while weak at another. That is to say, if someone dislikes  reading, thus feels uncomfortable reading books, it does not mean he is an incapable man at all. Who the hell are we to tell him, "Hey, you should read more. Your mind is pitifully poor for not reading anything." Indeed I have seen a lot of music composers and artists whose interest has never been reading. Their strength lies in the idioms of music and image, while languages, or words, are not their forte. They would find much pleasure in listening to music or watching a picture, not in reading a book.  I can’t tell how they are doing their work, partly because my knowledge of art does not allow me to give any judgement. I just can say they are art-lover, they are humourous, creative, and knowledgeble, and it’s always nice to talk with them. The mind is like a muscle that needs regular exercises, and reading is just one of these exercises; it's not all. On my part, in leisure time I would prefer listening to Mendelssohn rather than reading a book, no matter what kind of book it is - a classical novel or a US best-seller.

Elizabeth Taylor, the purple-eyed movie star, said once that the only things she read were scripts and books that would be brought to film in which she already knew she would play the main role. Obviously, we can always say that if Liz had read more than that, she would have done much better in her work as an actress. But the truth is that she didn’t, and this did not affect her career much. So did John Lennon - I hardly believe that he was a bookish guy.

If I held enough power to change anything in Vietnam, I would say that what Vietnam lacks now is an environment in which individualities are respected. Bookworms, meaning those who read a lot, (or, in my definition, those who are sunken in books and ignorant of the surrounding world) or any other kind of people of different interests and tastes, deserve equal respect. I hate people to laugh at bookworms' face, or ill speak of them behind their back. They are not worthy of being mocked at, or being isolated from the rest as if they were aliens to the place. But I also dislike to see people to be disappreciated by those who read, or bookworms to impose their bookish thinking on others and give preach any time they can. There’s nothing wrong with loving or hating books. People have the right to love books, and, on the other hand, people have the right not to do, just as everybody has the right to practice or not to practice some religion, as stated by the United Nations in their Charter. So mutual respect is always the best solution. A place would truly be heaven of freedom if anyone there can talk freely about Freud, or God, or food, or hairstyles, etc. without fear or shyness, especially without others turning round to see their face.

May I speak more shortly, that what Vietnam needs is actually more liberty for all individuals? If people were given enough freedom, (how much is enough is another matter that I would not mention here), they would spontaneously grow the need to do what is best for them. If one finds pleasure in reading, or if one benefits from reading, one will spontaneously love to read. On the contrary, they will not read if they don’t find anything good in it. After all, individual interests don’t need any direction or guide. Give people freedom and they will know what to love and to do.

That is my opinion as though I were someone in power and eligible to talk about the lack and the need of Vietnam.  To talk on the issue with a more personal view, I will say that I am not interested in reading, and I will try not to become a bookworm trying to impose what they read on the place they belong to.

But I am not much opposed to those who read as I may seem to be. In fact, I am quite interested in the term of “social previleges”. In economics, this term refers to the case when a whole community benefits from the act of a single individual. Education, for instance, can bring previleges to the society in this way. If a child goes to school, what she learns may benefit not just herself but also her family members, her neighbours, and her friends. So I have belief in the social previleges that the act of one reading brings. I am confident that those who read are less likely to be aggressive in comparison to those who don’t. The more the Vietnamese read books, the better-mannered they become I am sure. So, personally speaking, I don’t like to read, but I would be very happy if you do. Also I appreciate your interest in music, art, or money, etc. so long as your interest does not harm me or affect the community in a negative way, while it would be all the better if the society could benefit from it.