Have you ever wondered why some people are more intelligent than others?
Some research says they were born that way.
Other research says intelligence is developed throughout our life time.
Apparently, regardless of how much we were born with, we can still grow it.
So, what can we do to develop our intelligence?
One very powerful way is to read great literature.
You may have noticed, however, that very few of us these days
are sitting around reading Shakespeare.
I mean, why would we read Shakespeare when we have Instagram?!?!?
I bet not a single one of us jumped out of bed this morning
hollering “I can’t wait to read Hamlet!!!”
The mere thought brings up English class…
and that old maid English teacher who urged us to read great literature
and insisted on reading it aloud to us.
Why do we need that???
Answer: Because we’re not as smart as we think we are,
and we don’t have as much intelligence as we could have.
Take me, for example.
I thought I was pretty smart, and pretty well educated,
till I picked up a Shakespeare play a few days ago.
What a shock.
I suddenly saw the riches I have been avoiding and missing all these years.
I only got a few scenes into Hamlet before Shakespeare blew my mind.
I said to myself:
Holy. This is the greatest poet who ever lived.
[Hmmm…isn’t that what our English teacher was trying to tell us?…]
I can hear the language of my favorite poets: Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman…
Now I get where they got that capability:
They read Shakespeare!!!
They must have mainlined his language into themselves.
They grew their minds.
They developed their intelligence.
All these years,
I never knew how much of their genius was built on his.
But how does reading great literature actually develop our intelligence?
The person who wrote it was a genius.
They were giving their gift to the world.
You and I HAVE to grow our intelligence just to be capable of receiving their gift!
But once we get inside a work of genius and actually begin to understand it
it’s like a fire starts burning in our mind and soul.
It lights us up, and we are never the same.
It actually takes guts to make the decision to begin to read great literature.
There is something scary about challenging ourselves to grow our intelligence.
It is way-y-y-y-y easier to stay stuck in the la-la land of Instagram.
But guess what? You can have your cake and eat it, too.
You can continue with Instagram, but add a great book.
Then YOU make the evaluation which one is growing you more.
Reading great literature to grow your intelligence can be a tough job,
but it’s not that different from how you grow your muscles.
You have to stretch your muscles to get brawny.
You have to stretch your mind to get brainy.
So allow me to assign you your first workout…
which is to read ONE great work of literature.
Let me offer you three, with a brief excerpt from each.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army’s feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.
Once a certain tall soldier developed virtues and went resolutely to wash a shirt. He came flying back from a brook waving his garment bannerlike. He was swelled with a tale he had heard from a reliable friend, who had heard it from a truthful cavalryman, who had heard it from his trustworthy brother, one of the orderlies at division headquarters. He adopted the important air of a herald in red and gold.
“We’re goin’ t’ move t’morrah—sure,” he said pompously to a group in the company street. “We’re goin’ ‘way up the river, cut across, an’ come around in behint ‘em.”
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The Plague by Albert Camus
The unusual events described in this chronicle occurred in 194- at Oran. Everyone agreed that, considering their somewhat extraordinary character, they were out of place there. For its ordinariness is what strikes one first about the town of Oran, which is merely a large French port on the Algerian coast . . .
Does one of these writers reach you?
Have the guts to get inside a tale told by a genius.
This is seeing life through their eyes,
through their insight.
THIS is how we develop our intelligence.
PS for more on this topic, see my previous post:
How can we develop our mind and soul to a deeper level?