Books can’t give you experience

May 10th, 2018

I adore books. My shelves are filled with titles that promise insights about leadership, coaching, human dynamics, strategy, compassion, values.  After madly highlighting these work-related books in my effort to absorb their wisdom (and thus become wiser myself), I take a break and read fiction.  As it often happens in these non-work readings, the Ah-Ha still leaps from the page.

An amazing Ah-Ha came from The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George. The main character, Perdu, is a “literary apothecary who, from this floating bookstore in a barge, prescribes novels for the hardships of life. When asked by a customer, ‘Which book is your salvation in this evil world’, he remarks: “Books can do many things, but not everything. We have to live the important things, not read them.”

Regarding the hardship that the bookseller’s literary pill was to address, I’d add this to the prescription: The way to get through a hardship is to literally go through it.  To go through it means to face it fully, to experience your truth about the hurt or shame or feelings of failure and to let yourself experience them all. To go though it from one side, though the core, and out the other side. Experiencing them means letting the emotions run, letting them play out. Don’t add agreement to them, don’t tamp them down. Let the thoughts and feelings wash through your system and out.

We learn from our experiences, not from our theories.  It is in the experience of the hardship, the living through it, that we discover what matters to us and where we forge our core values and principles, where we forge who we are inside.   The same is true of joys and delights, though it’s interesting that we often seem to learn less from the easier times.  I’m still looking for a book to help me understand that phenomenon.

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