Our society madly urges alphabetizing their children. Parents brag about their 3 or 4 year-old being able to read or even write their names. Some are proud of their children being able to spell the whole alphabet or even of being able to read small books or billboards.
The most important thing about literacy is being able to get inside other people’s thoughts. I devoured books in my life as if the authors were present, sitting by my side and telling me the stories. I felt privileged by the presence of Machado de Assis, somewhat pessimistic and somewhat a rogue. I revered Plato and was carried as a disciple – his disciple or whoever I read. Or the opposite: I would deny passionately other people’s ideas.
The funny thing is that I used to laugh at men’s nods to their reading – how couldn’t they control themselves? But at the end I would do the same: there I was speaking to authors that in fact were not there.
Libraries, newsstands, billboards are filled with a world of opinions and studies that are worth knowing. There’s not enough time to read all the beauty and clever – that might contribute to our world view.
And there is art, of course! Who is not sensible to wit a well written romance or live a poem that plays with forms and sounds – even before anyone has spoken a word of it. What about the wonder of some other poems that are quiet sculptures enriched by silence.
What about writing? Writing embraces all beauty and expressing ideas. It could move mountains, bring people close or send them away. Writing overcomes time – just as reading brings me people that are not present right now. I throw my thoughts into the future allowing people to know them minutes, days or years later. Writing is extraordinary.
That is why I believe writing is precious. There shouldn’t be one person forbidden the travel in time and space. Or to know people from other places. Nobody should be denied those possibilities
But there is always the other side: who remembers the world before your own literacy? What about walking around when the world wasn’t decoded in symbols and mute words? The time you would get in and out stores and shops skipping the meaning of what was on labels and packages. How could we live that time? Were we blind? Unhappy? Not at all!
The world is never richer than in our childhood. You are never going to learn so much – ask psycologists. There will never be so many things making so much sense to you than when you ignore the alphabet. You are never going to be so good at interpreting relations, social limits, attitude and the whole mute codes of our society. Lessons are forever, but it is by the childhood that you drink the world at full because all is meaningful: our daily rhythm, the things our mothers do from waking to going to bed. The way they speak, how they relate to other people, how they relate to nature, esthetics, profession. What posture they use to bend down to catch things, how they relate morally with everything, the meaning of their being present. This spreads to interpreting the whole family members attitude and neighbors, etc.
Perhaps more precious than this illiterate knowledge – we have an open space to realize who we are in the world, what are the voices of our skin when we touch things, our guts when you eat or when you are hungry. What is the voice of your heart when there is suffering.
By the minute you alphabetize you open the doors to the past and to other places and we deviate from the present moment. It is beautiful and important, indeed. However it is important to be able to listen to the present. If that could last long enough people might go by their own strength after the human codes. Then we would have collaborated to a broader literacy that reaches the whole life.