As readers we like to think we are really awesome and special people simply because we like to read a lot. At least I like to think that. Kinder, gentler, smarter, introverted perhaps and maybe even shy but still people savvy, high emotional IQ, and the list goes on and on. Just Google “benefits of reading” for yourself sometime for lists and lists.
But does literature really make us better people? MobyLives reported the other day on a Stanford Center for Ethics panel on the moral merits of reading and the findings? Reading literature does not make us more moral but it apparently can make us better bullies!
Reading literature does make us better as assessing someone’s emotional state and as a result we tend to have a well-developed Theory of Mind. Bullies also generally have a well-developed Theory of Mind. Of course we like to think we use our powers for good but I’ve watched enough superhero movies to know that even the good guys are a hairsbreadth away from turning bad, Superman even had a go at it. And remember, Hitler was a great reader and I don’t think anyone would argue he was a good person. Then there were the days long, long ago when novels were considered corrupting. Seems like they may have been on to something after all.
I mean, think of all the trouble we could cause if we decided to be bad. We’ve got so much knowledge stored up in our heads. If I had a wine cellar I could totally pull a “Cask of Amontillado” on somebody! And I know some of you would be able to effectively execute a locked door murder and know how to not get caught.
Dangerous we are. Good thing we are too busy reading and can’t be bothered to be bad unless being bad means staying up too late with a book or calling out sick in order to spend the day reading.