[The body of this piece was written by me in December 2018]
When I was still living with my parents, I used to read almost all the newspapers and magazines my parents subscribed. In college, I served a leadership role with the university’s reading club. Later at Yale University, forced by the teaching environment and enlightened by some elective courses that I chose to take, I discovered that I have a real passion for not only reading but also writing.
As I write more and more, gradually, I started to realize that writing has some kind of “superpower” with it. It is intangible and difficult to describe. But let me make an attempt here.
- Writing and the Importance of Language
Writing helps me think. It helps me understand what to focus on and what to let go; what is important and what is trivial; what storytellers wanted me to hear and where the truth might actually lie. Writing strengthens my memory of the past and improves my ability to predict the future.
People think in words they know. Period. The depth of a person’s vocabulary determines the depth of his or her thoughts. Using myself as an example, I can only construct a thinking process using the words that I fully understand. Reversely, it would be impossible for me to use an English word that I do not recognize to help me think through a problem. For this reason, I strive to master as many words as possible in both the English and Chinese languages. By the same token, knowing a second or a third language is priceless: someone who speaks only one language and knows only one culture is limited in his or her thoughts. After all, one language only offers so many words; one culture only contains so many aspects of things. For example, many “people politics” words in Chinese do not have suitable English counterparts; many “love” words in French do not have foreign language counterparts either. A language reflects the unique history and culture of the people who developed it.
To use myself again: when I write and think, I can increasingly hear two voices in my mind speaking to me — one in Chinese and the other one in English; they agree on some things and they disagree on others; sometimes, they even talk to each other, leaving me aside watching. It may sound weird, but if you speak a second language, you probably get what I am saying here. I like the diversity of my inner voices. It enriches my thinking processes and helps me be creative and arrive at unexpected conclusions.
- Reading and the Importance of Being Open-minded
Today’s world urgently calls for more tolerance for thought diversities. News media, including those which are well-respected, are increasingly biased. Instead of broadening people’s horizons, they are closing people’s minds.
Equally interestingly, this year  I learned about The McGurk Effect. It refers to a perceptual phenomenon (or illusion) that occurs when a person hears one sound (the sound that is played) but sees the visual component of another sound (the visual movement of a person’s face pronouncing a second sound), resulting to the perception of a third sound. It proves that we “hear with our eyes.” The McGurk Effect, I think, makes the point that we are biologically incapable of acknowledging facts. Put it differently, we are biologically biased, and we just cannot help it. The McGurk Effect invites us to think twice of what we see, what we hear. Next time after I have a good meeting, I will ask myself: “Jackson, are you sure that they are this good? Are you sure that is what you heard? Did you arrive to a conclusion too early? Are you closing your mind to different ideas?”
I believe we live in a “knowledge economy.” Knowledge gets us jobs; knowledge drives productivity. Once we stop learning, we become outdated. So, to prevent ourselves from becoming obsolete and to overcome The McGurk Effect, we should keep our minds open and keep reading from many different sources.