Insights Gained From Reading

I happen to follow a Chinese TV series about the career of Sun Tzu, who lived between 544 and 496 BC. Sun is a legendary general and military strategist serving in the Kingdom of Wu during the Warring States Period in China. His book, the Art of War, has exerted significant impacts on Asian military affairs.

In one episode, a nephew of the King led an army of  30,000 in rebellion. Instead of fighting the rebellious army, Sun went to see the rebel leader personally, bringing a trained assassin along. After the rebel leader was killed. Sun persuaded the army to turn back and disband.

The neighboring Kingdom of Chu also sent an army to support the rebel leader, Sun was captured by the backup Chu army. The Chu General had read all of Sun’s writings before, but could not figure out the strategy that Sun had used to plot against them. “What did I miss?” The Chu General asked himself. Instead of killing Sun, now his prisoner, he invited Sun to dine for two purposes: to ask for more military insights, and to persuade him to defect to the Chu Kingdom. During the dinner, Sun Tzu talked about how people gained insights from reading. Let me share with you what I have gathered:

*Some people read just to criticize.
*Some read to quote the words without really understanding the meanings.
*Some read to remember for future application.
*Some read to confirm or refute what they already know.
*Some read between the lines.
*Some read to compare with their experiences.
*Some read and think and project with an open mind.
*Some read and practice and change their lives and others, too.

Sun Tzu also said that his writings on military strategy were not cast in stones, but were always waiting to be fine-tuned by the reader to suit local circumstances. So, how do you gain insight from reading any material? Bear in mind that the same piece of writing can be interpreted differently by another individual. How much insight one can extract depends on the individual’s motive and perception, rather than from the literal meanings of the words.

(February 2011)

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One Response to Insights Gained From Reading

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