Here is the hard truth: when it comes to reading, a majority of us, Malawians, are a lazy bunch. Be it material that is academic related, work related, matters of national interest, or just for fun, many of us find reading to be some sort of a burden. The moment we see a written piece that goes beyond a couple of paragraphs, like this one, our appetite to learn its content vanishes. All we do is come up with excuses: “Reading this piece is not that important”; “Somebody else will read it and summarize its contents for me”; “I am too busy with more important things”; “Reading is boring.”
Unfortunately for us, this lack of a reading culture is having a negative effect in many aspects of life in our country. Just this we week, we saw a billboard that was erected by the Islamic Information Bureau at Maselema near Toyota Malawi in Limbe, Blantyre become a source of some controversy. I asked myself a question: If those “Christians” who found that billboard offensive read and truly understood the bible, would there have been any controversy in the first place?
Let’s talk about how a habit of regular reading could be beneficial to our country. There are several benefits. Today, I want to focus on the ways regular reading can help in the progression of Malawi to become a better nation.
The first benefit of regular reading is it stimulates the mind. The mind is like a body. We need to take care of it. We take care of our bodies by eating right, exercising, and having adequate rest. As much as these activities are good for the mind as well, reading is special because it helps the brain generate new cells, develop neurology plasticity (the brain’s ability to change and adapt), and build up a functional reserve that provides a hedge against future cell loss.
Reading is also a great way for us to get to know more about the world around us. Sure, there are other ways of learning about the world from going to school, to traveling, to watching movies or television. However, some of these activities like traveling are very expensive to the extent that a majority of Malawians can only dream about them. Even for those who can afford it, the pandemic is making it very difficult to travel at the moment. Reading is a great, cheap alternative to increasing our knowledge about the world. For your information, learning about the world doesn’t necessarily mean being aware of what happens in some obscure country or knowing about some less known fact about the universe. If that’s what tickles your fancy, then read about that. However, learning about the world can be as simple as reading about the history of our beloved country or its current affairs. Read about the painful plunder to public resources that the country suffered during the DPP regime and even during the other regimes. Being aware of these things is the first step to tackling this ugly behavior.
The first two lead to the third benefit. Reading improves our ability to think critically. By exposing our minds to new knowledge and different ways of thinking, reading enables us to get better at analyzing facts to form a judgment. When people can’t think critically on issues, they resort to getting emotional over simple matters. The call by the Evangelical Association of Malawi for the Blantyre City Council to remove the billboard that the Islamic Information Bureau put up and the subsequent vandalism of the ad show that there is a huge deficiency of critical thinking in the country. Another manifestation of inadequate critical thinking is the recurrent habit of the plunder of public resources that has plagued the nation over the past quarter of a century. I am convinced that the pervasive nature of the damage that was done was partly because there weren’t enough people who could think critically and be assertive enough to stand up to the thieves and do what was right. With few critical and independent thinkers available to stand up to them, it became easy for those in power to manipulate and use their subordinate to advance their crooked agendas at the expense of the nation’s suffering. This is how the Mukhitho’s and the Chisale’s of this world were able to easily tell the MRA officials to let various goods enter the nation duty-free on the pretext that it was the then president who was importing the goods.
Reading is also a great way to improve our writing skills. Writing is probably the most important avenue of communication. Anything important is put in writing, be it on the subject of religion, legal, entertainment, or academics. So if you want to truly grow professionally, you have to be comfortable with writing. Even for those who want to go into self-employment, successful entrepreneurs put their contracts in writing. Reading helps us become better writers by exposing us to different styles of writing and expanding our vocabularies. Once one becomes a better writer, he or she automatically becomes more marketable.
To summarize, reading will help us have a curious mind that has a strong appetite for knowledge, gain knowledge about the world around us, improve our critical thinking, and improve our writing skills. This will help us be curious and learn about what is going on in our country, and to stand up for what is right. If more and more of us did this, the future of our country would be brighter. Through this simple habit, we can do our part in improving the future of the nation.
So challenge yourself and read a book today. It doesn’t have to be in a subject with which you are familiar. Expand your horizon a little. If you don’t have access to a book, read something else: newspapers, magazines, sports stories, entertainment news, religious texts, online articles, you name it. What you read doesn’t necessarily have to be in English. Even if you already know some of the stories carried in these text, read to refresh your memory and to understand the details. Become an expert in a topic. Most importantly, read because you know that doing so will help you as an individual to become a better member of society and the country at large.