“MINDS LIKE EMPTY ROOMS”
As you know, Harper Lee died at 89, leaving behind the legacy, To Kill a Mockingbird. Published in 1960, the story was about a girl named Scout, and took place in the south when prejudice and bigotry were rampant. Because of the subject matter and truth of her underlying story, her novel became a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize. Some 75-years later, talking about books and reading, this old woman with a sharp mind said, “In an abundant society where people have laptops, cellphones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.”
Allow me to change one word in her wise revelation, which to me makes it more meaningful and urgent. Because this one-word change represents the future of our society, which truly scares me. The sad thing is, so very many disregard it as nonsense, just as they do global warming or climate change. It’s so easy for simple minds to deny, rather than actually “think” and delve seriously into the facts, because should they do so, they may very well be proved wrong—and of course they are never wrong. So to simply deny, based on ignorance, is the way to go for far too many.
So what’s the word I want to change? ‘People’ to ‘Children’. “In an abundant society where ‘children’ have laptops, cellphones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms…” Look, it’s too late for adult “people.” Most of us are so set in our ways, locked into our beliefs, and convinced we are right, we never even consider we might be oblivious, let alone ignorant of a truth which differs from our belief. Yet it’s not too late for our kids. Yet most kids also believe they are ‘right’ in about everything, and are even worse at considering a “less-fun-thing” to spend their time on, thus they don’t consider grabbing a good “book” to read. If only we can change this.
No, I’m not saying all games are worthless, there are learning games for kids, and much ‘knowledge’ to learn on the internet, but most games are not teaching anything but finger-dexterity, and many teach violence. And come on, just how many hours of constantly texting friends are really warranted? Don’t you wonder what they are saying to each other for all those hours of thumb poking?
Sadly, Harper Lee is correct. We are indeed generating a society of young minds like empty rooms. When a young child would rather text every friend over and over about nothing, or sit in front of a computer and play games, than go out in a canoe, or go fishing, or explore the forest or shoreline for interesting things, or read a book, what are they learning? Nothing. Yet most adults enable kids by “showing” them that the electronic device in their hands is what life is all about. How WRONG can we be? At restaurants, concerts, walking the streets, driving, sitting at the dinner table, at the beach, EVERYWHERE, all you see are folks and kids with that digital device in their hands and their eyes on the screen. There are options for parents. Why not have “digital-free time” at home, restrict usage, have kids ‘purchase’ cellphone/tablet time by paying with time reading a book. But I doubt many consider it–please do.
Yes, there are many “smart” parents, and be proud if you are one. And if your children/grandchildren actually enjoy reading, consider yourself fortunate. And know too those kids are not just privileged by their love of reading, but are far and away more likely to “succeed” in their goals than are kids who wear out their fingers sending frivolous texts and emails to their equally lacking friends, or play meaningless games on their tablets and laptops. And, please, let them know you are proud of them and offer to buy their books, and maybe even suggest a book or just get it for them.
I’m an old man and thus won’t be around to see how our ‘digital kids’ impact society, and I dearly hope I am wrong, but I’m guessing the result will be an even more rapid decrease in the “intelligence” of the average American. Yes, the U.S. is losing ground to other nations in math, science, and creativity, and I fear our growing digital society will continue the downward trend. A mind that does not explore and learn, is indeed, an empty room, or in this case, a room with meaningless games and texts. Those of us who are wise, will see this as not speculation, but fact, and do something about it. I hope you will, and perhaps start by providing an example and maybe even an incentive to “Read” to young minds around you.
I wish not to sound self-serving, but I’d like to suggest a book of adventure and yet so much wisdom your child would surely enjoy. It is a book much like To Kill a Mockingbird, only it was written this past year. It’s the story about an eleven-year-old boy growing up during that same period of time when prejudice, bigotry, and disdain reigned. He is white, and after the death of his father, he is raised by an old black man named Moses and his wife; they are raising their two grandchildren. The young boy learns the wonders of life, patience, understanding, empathy, and love, as he struggles to stay with his new family. He is taken away from them, struggles against prejudice, yet continues to return, fighting the bigots and hatred with all his will. This book is replete with the wisdom of Moses, who is best described as a black Gandhi. The love and empathy they share is something young people today need to read about, comprehend, and adopt.
The novel is “My Water Path” and yes, I am the author. I wrote this novel as my dedication to all those who suffered so much at the hands of prejudice and bigotry, and to try and show kids the wonders of love and empathy. As an eleven-year-old boy raised in the south, I simply could not comprehend why so much hate existed in the minds of whites toward black people—it was simply beyond me. I had never met a black person with anger or disrespect, and it disturbed me that so much disdain, hate, lynching, and the KKK prevailed. It was simply impossible to ignore, and even as a child, it angered me. Thus, I created a story as if I were Jory, the young lad being raised by a black family. I needed to “get it all out” and show a powerful love between the races. I wish I could give this novel to every child in America, so that they could see, and hopefully empathize with the goodness, compassion, and love I struggled to put into words—I shed many tears writing this novel.
I truly believe today’s children are missing something paramount in the development of their character. We have become a selfish society, and think mostly of ourselves, simply due to the apathy all about us, especially around our children. We have a responsibility to do something about it, especially with our children, and just perhaps it begins with putting down the cellphones and tablets full of babble, and picking up a book full of love and empathy. My Water Path is a good start. It can be seen and purchased on this site. It’s also available for Kindle at Amazon.com I’m sure your child and you would truly enjoy the novel.
I wish you love. tj