Turning Arduous Reading Into a Habit
World Teacher's Message No.275



The Question:

Many people including myself find reading difficult. It takes a long time to improve reading abilities, and a lot of people can’t persist for long. I would appreciate it if I can get some advice.

(November 9, 2016 Happy Science Special Lecture Hall)
From Q & A of lecture, “On Academic Integrity”


I have talked about this before, but when I was still working in a trading firm in New York, my manager was some ten years older than me. I assume he was a smart person, since he attended La Salle High School in Kagoshima and then went into an economics major at Tokyo University.

At the time, a Japanese-born Chinese person was also working in the New York headquarters. He happened go to high school in Japan, and he knew of the manager as “someone from Kagoshima La Salle who always performed at the top in his exams and was recognized nationally.” Hearing this, I thought, “I see. He must have been an intelligent person.”

That manager was around 40 years old, and it was about his third time working in New York. One time, he told me he would get me lunch, and I went to his house. He had a child as well.

In the house, I asked him, “Don’t you read any books?” and he answered, “Books? They’re right there.” Puzzled, I looked over and saw a few mystery novels underneath the table by the sofa.

“How many books do you read?” I inquired, and he answered, “I read about two books a month. Besides that, I read some magazines.” I assume he reads newspapers as well, but the 40-year-old who graduated from Tokyo University as an economics major reads about two mystery books a month and some magazines.

Even though I was still young, he was unqualified to lecture a person like myself who has already read so many books.

At the beginning, I wholly listened to everything he said, but there was a great gap in the level of knowledge and education that he and I had. I gradually realized this, but until I was able to speak English proficiently, he continued to lecture me with a lofty tone.

Back then, the trainees in the company were given English lessons by seniors using a 500-page English book, The New York Money Market. Through the course of the year, they were given lessons two to three times a week in seminar-like sessions where they translated the book together.

Meanwhile, I went to a bookstore in the One World Trade Center during lunch break to buy some books and then heaved them onto my desk. As I was piling 20 thick, English books, someone asked, “Are you reading those books?” and I answered, “Yes, I think I need to read at least this much.” I ended up never being invited to one of their translation sessions.

It’s impossible to teach someone who is already able to read that much on their own. They looked horrified as I breezed through the pages of original texts written on a variety of subjects ranging from something that a person from the New York Fed did, to a book on exchanges.


Accumulating Many Small Delights

A similar thing happened when I attended graduate school in the City University of New York. This experience left me surprised about the incapability of Americans.

At the time, I had a solid educational foundation, up to the point where I would have been able to write a whole book on foreign exchange in Japanese.

In addition, I believe my English was sufficient. Since I already knew the materials in Japanese, I was able to read news on the foreign exchange and the New York market relatively quickly. My seniors weren’t able to teach me much, and nor could my professors in graduate school. They did not have as much practical experience as me, so they would shudder when I showed them better ways of doing things.

For instance, one lecture taught different theoretical ways of risk hedging the exchange of three currencies: the dollar, the yen and the pound. However, I had actually done this in practice and they were awestruck when I shared my insights with them. In the end, I was able to tell that they were annoyed by my input.

I got the impression that professors can easily teach people from a securities firm who are learning the materials for the first time, but are unable to teach someone who has already gone out into the real world and actually practiced the materials.

Through these experiences I learnt the importance of “knowledge”. It’s okay that you feel inferior; I believe that people who have a higher desire for knowledge tend to feel this more.

As fields of concentration gradually expand, ability grows and differences begin to emerge. It is the same for anything else, whether it be exercising, fencing or soccer; gaps in ability will arise. When you study a specific concentration, your skills will develop over time and others will give credit if it’s due.

When people acknowledge the things that you know and can do, small feelings of excitement will emerge and you can experience happiness.

For example, when someone recognizes you as a person who can speak English and realizes that you have memorized all of Princess Nukata’s poems, they will be shocked by how much you have exceeded their expectations.

Like in the situation above, expanding a field of study can unexpectedly show itself, say, in small conversations at a home party where you can impress your superiors with your intellect. It may even be possible that you are talking to a publisher-type person and be asked to compile your ideas into a book after they see how knowledgeable you are.

These situations are possible. You can motivate yourself to read by using self-satisfaction or other’s rising assessments of yourself.


Don’t Fool yourself

It is important to keep “a spirit of staying true to yourself.” It’s not very moral to state something that you don’t understand as if you do understand it. Fundamentally, you have to study diligently, as if you are stacking bricks on top of each other.

For instance, some people may think that “going to a foreign country by itself will make you fluent in English.” However, this is not exactly true. When you go to foreign countries, it may seem as if everyone’s fluent in English, but there are many people who use sloppy English. These are often the people who study English with an attitude similar to that of tourists.

In the past, I have stated that I can guess a person’s highest educational level by just listening to them talk. Most of this comes from their use of grammar and their vocabulary. I can’t presume a person’s intelligence, but people who are able to use proper grammar are the people who have graduated from good universities.

Also, one can tell from people’s speech the frequency of Latin and Greece-derived words that a person uses. When a person uses certain vocabulary, it is easy to tell that they are intelligent. By looking at a person’s grammar and vocabulary, you can make a reasonable prediction of their final accomplishments.

This is an extremely important thing, and people who don’t care about grammar and vocabulary may not experience improvements in academics, even if they stay abroad for a long time. This is very important.

I don’t think that Japanese people’s English is that bad. Some say that we worry too much about the grammar that makes us unable to converse, but because we tend to have a solid grammatical foundation, we use good English. Pronunciation may be poor, but this is the same for all other countries. Japanese speak good English, even if they may stress out too much about their grammar.


Study Method: Stacking Bricks

I don’t know if I was completely able to answer your question, but most people don’t feel an inferiority complex in terms of their intelligence; being able to feel this, I think, means that you are surrounded by bright people.

Don’t get too greedy and continue to work diligently, stacking bricks on top of each other, one by one.

If it’s impossible to be an expert in all of economics, it’s good to lower your goal, for instance, to being able to comprehend one full page of an economics newspaper. A different method would be to split your goals into smaller chunks by thinking, “I won’t be able to understand all of business with its difficulties, but I will read substantial amounts of businessmen’s autobiographies to gain good business intuition.”

The stacking-bricks method is advisable. Over time, your feelings of inferiority will disappear.

There are many brilliant people in this world. Without these people, there will be no development. When you see these people accomplish great tasks and gain respect, you should look at them with a feeling of praise and acknowledge them, which will move you closer to them.

Turning Arduous Reading Into a Habit
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