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Reading and refinement

Ever since members of early civilizations used simple hieroglyphics to communicate their
thoughts, hopes and aspirations, there has been a close connection between reading and
refinement. For this purpose, the terms 'refinement' must be extended to include far more than
'good manners' -- otherwise, the only reading necessary to produce he 'refined' person would be a
book on etiquette ! Refinement, however, really implies culture and civilization in the widest
sense, a combination of those qualities which differentiate man from the animal world, and it is
the bearing of reading on the development of these qualities which we must examine.
A high standard of personal morality and unselfishness is cultured man's first characteristic. This,
he largely owes to the books of his religion, whether it be the Christian Bible, the Muslim Koran,
the Hindu Upanishads, the Philosophy of Buddha or Confucius. Such books teach him the
meaning of family life and virtues of honesty, peaceful living and integrity. But, the best of
secular literature helps him to achieve the same object. The innocence of Ophelia, the nobility of
Sydney carton cannot fail to impress and attract the reader.
Greek tragedy was intended to induce in the audience a 'Catharsis,' or purging of the emotions,
primarily those of 'pity and terror'. But the general reader finds that all good literature has a
salutary effect on the emotional side of his nature. Great emotional pleasure may be derived from
a good novel, as we enter fully into the life of the hero or heroine, an the best of writing, whether
it takes the form of poetry, drama, or the novel has an undoubtedly maturing effect on our
emotional nature.
For most people, however, the 'refined' person is the 'educated' person, the person whose intellect
has been developed through reading intelligent books. The clear, logical thinker owes much to
his grounding in the school-room, and even more to the love of reading which this grounding has
fostered. Reading becomes a stimulating function of adult life, and ceases to be a child's tool for
passing an examination or getting a job.
Cultured living requires that people should be 'well-informed,' and wide reading has the added
advantage of imparting useful general knowledge. Thus, the well-read man or woman is more
fitted to live in the community and travel, profitably, outside it. Such knowledge is obtained from
a variety of sources ranging from the newspaper and magazine to the many available volumes of
specialized non-fiction books.
An added benefit of good reading is the development of a love of language for its own sake.
Style, imagery and figurative language, the 'atmosphere of prose and poetry, its emotional
intensity and its intellectual content-all these things inculcate a love of beauty, the mark of a
truly civilized person.
No reader of good literature can fail to be influenced by the attitudes to life to members of the
family, to the community and to the nation which it contains. He constantly checks his own
philosophy against what eh finds, and in analyzing it, refines it. we do not necessarily try to
behave like people in books, but at least we can learn from them.
Sometimes, however, we rightly desire to model our lives on those of great men and women, in
so far as we can, and in this connection, the importance of reading biographies cannot be over-
estimated. it is a poor scientist who does not emulate the achievements of a Michael-Angelo or
an Einstein, it is a poor nurse who does not admire the forcefulness and devotion of Florence
Nightingale.
Today, we live in a cosmopolitan community, which has become sophisticated and matured by
the admixture of foreigners, with their own languages, ways of life and special gifts.
Furthermore, few of us nowadays, spend all our live sin our own small village or town. And so, it
becomes increasingly important to know about other countries, other people. To know about
other countries, other people. To know something about them from books, perhaps to learn their
languages, at once smoothes the path to friendship, and it is a characteristic of a refined person to
wish to make friends with other nationals -- not to regard them suspiciously as 'foreign devils.'
The refined person is the mentally disciplined person -- the person who demands a full and
intellectually satisfying life.