How Reading Can Help You Become an Ethical Global Leader
Acclaimed author Chigozie Obioma explains to Professor Kalu Osiri how his love for reading was kindled by his father at a young age. He then made the case for why reading can make people better human beings and ethical global leaders.
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[00:00:05.500]Well, Chigozie Obioma, thank you for coming.
[00:00:07.780]I appreciate you.
[00:00:08.680]Thank you, Professor Kalu Osiri,
[00:00:10.920]for inviting me here.
[00:00:12.572]So, I'd like for you to tell us a little bit about
[00:00:15.730]how you came to develop such a love and passion for reading.
[00:00:21.650]I came to reading as I like to say by serendipity.
[00:00:26.420]I was living in Nigeria in (inaudible)
[00:00:30.270]in the west of Nigeria, which is in West Africa,
[00:00:34.188]and I was a little boy at the time,
[00:00:36.730]and I liked to play football,
[00:00:39.356]which is soccer in the American plans.
[00:00:42.324]I would stay out late, against my parents' wanting,
[00:00:48.540]and play in swampy areas,
[00:00:50.710]which would always lead me to getting infected
[00:00:55.633]with usually malaria.
[00:00:58.635]I ended up at the hospital, and my dad would stay with me.
[00:01:04.373]Usually spend the night with me.
[00:01:07.090]And I remember that during those times, I just,
[00:01:11.520]for whatever reason, I just wanted him
[00:01:13.640]to always tell me stories.
[00:01:15.100]He would tell me these stories,
[00:01:19.723]and so later on,
[00:01:20.840]when I had grown to be older,
[00:01:23.520]one day I asked him, "Dad, why don't you tell me a story?"
[00:01:27.600]At that time I was much older.
[00:01:30.350]I wasn't falling ill as frequently anymore.
[00:01:34.193]He was like, "Well, you can read.
[00:01:36.100]Why don't you read them yourself?"
[00:01:37.959]He gave me a book from his shelf.
[00:01:40.382]It was dog-eared, without the cover.
[00:01:44.730]I just remember sitting down and reading that book,
[00:01:47.507]and becoming very perplexed, and fascinated,
[00:01:52.031]because I discovered that one of the best of the stories
[00:01:57.010]or the most memorable of the ones he told me,
[00:01:59.580]had been gotten from the book.
[00:02:01.215]Before then, I used to revere my dad.
[00:02:04.560]I thought this was this great genius
[00:02:06.900]who made up these things.
[00:02:08.115]I would brag to my friends. But then, this was the source.
[00:02:13.430]This was what he was doing.
[00:02:14.670]He would read these things
[00:02:16.010]and present them as though they were his creation.
[00:02:19.530]The moment I discovered
[00:02:22.030]that this was in fact the source of stories,
[00:02:24.089]I began to read very much, and they encouraged me.
[00:02:30.810]At some point, I was reading so much,
[00:02:33.600]that I could not even pay attention
[00:02:35.590]in the classes any longer.
[00:02:37.317]I would put books under the desk and be reading in class.
[00:02:41.588]I even started failing.
[00:02:43.996]They had to put limitations on my reading.
[00:02:47.244]I've just written an essay for The New York Times on this,
[00:02:51.870]coming January 9. Actually no, December 9.
[00:02:56.310]It is a longer essay if you want to read that story.
[00:03:00.400]That was how I came to loving reading.
[00:03:06.127]It's certainly wonderful to have you on the campus,
[00:03:08.957]on the campus of The University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
[00:03:12.414]I'm collaborating with one of your colleagues,
[00:03:17.159]He and I are taking group of students to Ghana next year,
[00:03:21.602]and so there will be business students
[00:03:25.150]and non business students,
[00:03:26.350]who are going to be working on a project in Ghana,
[00:03:28.730]and one of the things we are doing is he,
[00:03:31.342]being an English professor, is going to suggest a book,
[00:03:35.960]perhaps a fiction, that students are going to read,
[00:03:39.190]that will help students gain some access
[00:03:42.316]to the Ghanaian culture.
[00:03:44.069]Some people might be wondering,
[00:03:45.958]why do business students have to read fiction?
[00:03:49.135]I'd like to get your thoughts on that.
[00:03:51.080]What are some of the benefits of reading?
[00:03:54.387]I would answer that question
[00:03:57.020]by taking you back to a
[00:04:00.693]kind of an international event
[00:04:04.402]that happened in Mexico some time ago. I think in 2006.
[00:04:09.108]Where the chief of the police force,
[00:04:15.057]in a particular city,
[00:04:16.987]decided that all of the new recruits,
[00:04:21.840]and even the police officers,
[00:04:26.050]all of them had to read.
[00:04:29.770]He made a list that was required for them all to read.
[00:04:37.330]It was, it made the news, because people were wondering,
[00:04:39.890]why should police men and women have to read
[00:04:43.910]as a requirement to being officers?
[00:04:47.578]He gave three reasons, that I think were very interesting.
[00:04:51.554]He said that, number one, reading, obviously,
[00:04:58.460]equips you with vocabulary and the ability to
[00:05:03.960]articulate your thoughts in a more concise and clear ways,
[00:05:09.206]so apparently gives you a repertoire of words
[00:05:13.660]and so you become more versatile with language.
[00:05:16.584]Number two reason he gave was that reading helps the people
[00:05:23.870]to acquire experience by proxy.
[00:05:26.232]Thereby, becoming better empathetic people.
[00:05:32.110]I like to, I tell my students in the fiction classes,
[00:05:36.592]that in fact the idea of fiction itself,
[00:05:41.127]whether it be through the medium of novels or film,
[00:05:45.590]is a human mystery.
[00:05:50.180]Because it's kind of a miracle that we,
[00:05:53.744]even though we know going into a film studio or cinema
[00:05:59.848]that these is make believe, these characters did not exist,
[00:06:05.060]the experiences that they have are fictive,
[00:06:08.510]yet we invest in them, we find ourselves crying,
[00:06:12.820]being, some people just saw the play version
[00:06:17.030]of The Fishermen in London.
[00:06:18.173]Someone wrote me this long email about how they were crying.
[00:06:23.470]Even though he knows that this is fiction.
[00:06:27.359]So why? It's just because there's something
[00:06:32.080]about the human experience, the human condition,
[00:06:34.880]that we all can identify in those characters,
[00:06:39.959]even though they are in fact not true characters.
[00:06:43.610]They are not human beings.
[00:06:44.646]If we read about a situation
[00:06:47.930]and we continuously invest in them,
[00:06:50.625]we come to a better understanding of what it means,
[00:06:56.460]for instance, to suffer grief,
[00:06:58.360]and we become more empathetic.
[00:07:00.078]Police officers or business students,
[00:07:02.551]going into particular places,
[00:07:07.080]where their own family
[00:07:09.310]or is different from their own experience,
[00:07:11.319]would have the ability to better empathize
[00:07:14.650]with whatever they encounter there.
[00:07:16.440]The third reason he gave was that reading is in fact
[00:07:21.511]an ethical practice.
[00:07:27.246]He made the point, the argument,
[00:07:28.920]that there is a humility to reading.
[00:07:31.580]So you again, you surrender yourself to this experience.
[00:07:34.641]Except maybe you have a read for classes,
[00:07:37.320]nobody forces you to read.
[00:07:39.080]So you're surrendering yourself in some ways to it.
[00:07:44.844]It makes you, in many ways, a more humble, a better person,
[00:07:49.560]somebody who has the ability to better live a more
[00:07:54.878](inaudible) life in general,
[00:07:56.660]which I think makes good leaders and entrepreneurs.
[00:08:00.049]And I would add that reading in fact has the ability to,
[00:08:08.490]it broadens your mind.
[00:08:11.924]It gives you ... It, because it's like energy,
[00:08:16.030]or exercise, like exercise,
[00:08:17.670]you're exercising your mind, your intellect,
[00:08:19.932]so the more you read, the more active your mind is,
[00:08:24.100]so it's not dulled by reading.
[00:08:26.973]Rather it's tempered and sharpened by it.
[00:08:30.270]This is why I think that most great people,
[00:08:33.670]even Bill Gates,
[00:08:35.190]it doesn't matter what their field is, read.
[00:08:38.706]Obama just gave a list on his Facebook page a few days ago
[00:08:44.236]of like all the books he just read in the past few months.
[00:08:48.260]The guy is a voracious reader.
[00:08:49.821]Name world leaders, even Warren Buffet,
[00:08:56.734]and so I think for business students, medical students,
[00:09:00.692]reading will enhance whatever you're trying to do.
[00:09:05.790]That's really powerful, because,
[00:09:07.031]so the way I'm thinking about this is,
[00:09:11.230]if the more business students read,
[00:09:13.790]they essentially are developing
[00:09:16.390]to becoming more effective leaders, more ethical leaders,
[00:09:20.050]and they increase their emotional intelligence.
[00:09:24.600]That is of course business terminology,
[00:09:27.360]but yes, it does do all of these things,
[00:09:31.990]and in fact, you talk about how UNL,
[00:09:35.610]you guys are taking students to Africa,
[00:09:38.380]how UNL business school or English department,
[00:09:43.394]architecture and all this different fields,
[00:09:47.146]should have some kind of global outlook to them,
[00:09:50.267]so if you are that kind of person who wants to
[00:09:54.590]encounter different cultures,
[00:09:55.875]then you have to have the ability to be more empathetic
[00:10:00.750]towards different people and diverse cultures.
[00:10:06.090]Having developed that empathetic ability
[00:10:11.948]would take you places.
[00:10:14.540]If you go to contacts or places where
[00:10:18.750]there are certain things that are so different,
[00:10:21.143]in a negative way or diminutive way,
[00:10:23.286]to your experience,
[00:10:25.480]instead of being condescending towards that experience
[00:10:29.090]or that reality,
[00:10:29.923]you will be able to better manage it.
[00:10:35.460]What next should we expect from you?
[00:10:38.580]What do you have cooking now, on your stove?
[00:10:41.557]I don't know if we've mentioned it earlier,
[00:10:43.640]but I'm primarily a fiction writer,
[00:10:45.996]so I teach fiction here at UNL.
[00:10:49.186]I have my second novel being published
[00:10:53.485]in January, on January 8,
[00:10:56.285]and we are launching it here in the home front,
[00:10:59.308]at the Johnny Carson Center.
[00:11:04.662]The title of the novel is
[00:11:06.200]An Orchestra of Minorities.
[00:11:07.933]It's a novel set in Umuahia,
[00:11:10.920]in the east of Nigeria,
[00:11:13.790]and in the early 2000's.
[00:11:18.170]It's a love story about this very provincial guy
[00:11:21.680]who is a poultry farmer
[00:11:22.925]who falls in love with a woman who is from a kind of a
[00:11:27.626]well to do family and is about to become a medical doctor
[00:11:32.531]and so they face these difficulties in their relationship.
[00:11:37.067]He sacrifices everything he has to be able to be with her.
[00:11:42.750]But there's a twist there,
[00:11:45.060]in that the story is told by a Chi,
[00:11:49.850]which is in the Igbo
[00:11:52.478]cosmology is the personal god,
[00:11:55.670]or a kind of a guardian spirit
[00:11:58.250]that we believe every human inhabit.
[00:12:01.580]The story is told as a testimony to (inaudible)
[00:12:08.244]supreme god, and so it's a cosmological novel
[00:12:12.400]that takes place, half of it, in cosmic space,
[00:12:16.180]and half in terrestrial space,
[00:12:20.317]on the earth.
[00:12:21.441]It's very ...
[00:12:26.270]It's broad in scope.
[00:12:29.770]The Chi is a (inaudible) spirit
[00:12:31.960]that has been coming and going for some seven hundred years
[00:12:36.516]so the novel also charts a map of Igbo history.
[00:12:41.399]In fact, some of it takes place in America,
[00:12:46.620]in the 1900's.
[00:12:49.502]So the Chi had embodied a host who was a slave,
[00:12:53.450]so through the Chi's
[00:12:57.746]own map of history,
[00:12:59.960]I'm able to chart this long historical evolution
[00:13:05.490]of the Igbo people and the West African history, I'll say.
[00:13:11.970]I hope that every, all of your students, and everyone,
[00:13:16.883]will attend that lunch, and we'll read the book.
[00:13:23.170]Chigozie Obioma, author and professor
[00:13:25.985]at the University of Nebraska,
[00:13:28.170]thank you so much for joining me.
[00:13:30.320]Thank you very much Doctor Kalu Osiri.
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