On reading the Koran


Lesley Hazleton sat down one day to read the Koran. And what she found — as a non-Muslim, a self-identified “tourist” in the Islamic holy book — wasn’t what she expected. With serious scholarship and warm humor, Hazleton shares the grace, flexibility and mystery she found, in this myth-debunking talk.

The magic of words

One of the most recurring methods of thinking in the Western world is verbal thinking. Although we posses a quite range of intelligences or mental abilities, including musical, emotional, numerical, spatial, and kinaesthetic intelligences according to the experts on the field of neurosciences. It is verbal intelligence in which we depend on most. We tend to think and express ourselves in words and in the concepts on which they are constructed.

It can be debated that mastery of the use of words and verbal intelligence is the most important skill we develop, because acquiring further skills depends basicly on our comprehension of language that manipulates the world. A tremendous proportion of the early learning for an infant is in developing verbal skills – learning to speak, to understand speech, to read and to write. All these skills and abilities reflect in great degree the importance of language dealing with the world.

Whether a baby is brought up in Beijing, Minsk, Sydney, Mexico City, Tokio, Bagdad or Moscow, he or she will surely spend thousands of hours acquiring expertise in its native language. He or she will become proficient with the amazing range, power, complexity and sophisticated subtleties of a language. However, once a certain competence has been acquired most people stop developing verbal skills. This is the sad part of the story.

Studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between people’s abilities with words and range of vocabulary and with success in their chosen fields. People who can express themselves clearly are perceived as more intelligent and higher status. They are accorded greater respect. So why do we not continue to enhance our verbal skills? Why do we stop doing what we spent most of our early years doing?

The trouble is that we take our verbal abilities for granted. Crazy idea! Once we have mastered reading, writing and speaking we move on to other things. We have acquired the most important tool in our mental toolbox. We depend on it for all sorts of tasks but we rarely sharpen it. It makes better sense to maintain, enhance and extend the tool. Here I present some ways we can remedy the situation doing just these steps.

a. Get as soon as possible a good dictionary and thesaurus

Two of the most loyal companions on your desk, bureu, bedroom, study table should be a dictionary and a thesaurus. Use the dictionary to learn the meanings and derivations of new words you encounter. Also use it to check the exact meanings and spellings of words that you are not sure of. The thesaurus is extremely helpful whenever you are writing, reading, thinking or debating, and need an alternative to a word in order to avoid repetition or to achieve a variation in meaning.

Your computer probably offers a spellchecker and a thesaurus so by all means use them but they should be seen as handy digital aids to be used alongside the mighty physical volumes. Never underestimated the affored helpfulness of all these two instruments.

b. Read as much as you can

It may seem silly to advise someone who is reading this text that they should read, but in the modern world we are so busy with work and we are bombarded with so much information by TV broadcast, telephone and internet and the sort that reading books and articles can be squeezed out of our agenda.

Reading the works of really good writers is one of the best ways to develop our abilities with words. Modern and classic novels, leading non-fiction books and top quality newspaper and magazine articles are all important sources for us. How often do you find time to read poetry? Try to read some new poems and re-read old favourites for inspiration and appreciation of the sublime skills of the poet. It may help to develop expression skills when communicating with others.

Reading works that are well written helps us at two levels. First, tt will increase our understanding of concepts and our acquisition of knowledge and second it helps us to develop our core skills at comprehension, vocabulary, meaning and expression. Most of our reading should be speed reading so that we are taking in the information rapidly. There are various books and courses on speed reading. But, remember that good reading always requires time and reflection.

However, when we occasionally encounter a piece of text which is extremely cogent or well written we should re-read it, taking time to examine what it is that makes it so successful. We should savour the words and metaphors that the author uses, analyse his or her arguments, underline the key points and perhaps make a note to mimic some of this style in our own writing. This is a nugget of advice.

If you are fortunate enough to have a partner who likes reading then try reading aloud to each other. Choose an interesting short piece and read it for your partner with feeling and emphasis. Children learn by listening to their parents or teachers read and by reading to them. We can do the same and it should be a pleasurable activity. When you have read the piece you can discuss it with your partner. What did each of you get out of it? What aspects of the author’s style did you like most? What points did the author make and do you agree with them? Play at being students again.

c. Capture the magic of new words and use them in every day speech

There is a regular feature in the Reader’s Digest magazine entitled, ‘It pays to expand your Word Power’. It is sound advice. Whenever we bump into new words we should turn to the dictionary and spend a moment learning the meaning and derivation of the word. It is easy to skip new words and race on through the text so we need discipline if we are not to lose this opportunity.

Say we come across the word philology. It means the science of language and its historical development. It comes from the ancient Greek word philos, meaning a friend, and the Greek word logos, meaning a word – so philology’s roots means love of words. While we are in this section of the dictionary we might notice that philanthropy, philately, philharmonic and philosophy all use the same Greek root of philos and they all refer to the love of something. If we do this we are on our way to becoming a philologist, someone who loves words and the studies the science of language.

As you build your vocabulary you should try to use the new words in context as this helps you to remember them. However, it can look pompous or pretentious to use many long and obscure words in everyday speech. The main benefit of having a large vocabulary is the ability to use a word with exactly the right meaning at a time when it is appropriate.

A secondary benefit is that we better understand intellectual writing. There are many guides to good writing style and you have to find one that suits you. In general it is better to keep your written and spoken sentences short and clear. But do not hesitate to occasionally use an unusual word when it conveys exactly the meaning you require.

d. Write as much as you can and rewrite and edit every good idea that you came about

We all write, whether it is a text message on a cell phone, an email message or a novel, and we can all improve our writing. A good way to improve your writing is to read over what you have written and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does what I have written express exactly what I mean?
  2. Will it be clear and comprehensible to the reader?
  3. Can I make it more concise or more accurate?

We should look for superfluous words and sentences. Most of our digital photographs can be improved by cropping in order to focus on the subject. In exactly the same way, most of our written work can be improved by cutting out unnecessary or repetitive elements.

e. Enjoy life playing with words and meanings

Children learn language by playing with words, testing, experimenting, making mistakes and being gently corrected. We should adopt a playful attitude towards words and treat them as friends. Word games will increase your verbal dexterity and intelligence rating. Many standard IQ tests use word puzzles. Anagrams, cryptic crosswords, code-breakers, word searches, dingbats (also known as rebuses) and other verbal conundrums are excellent mental exercise. Scrabble is ideal in this regard.

If you want to play it seriously you will have to learn many obscure short words that use the high value letters. The dictionary game is simple but fun. One person reads out a definition from the dictionary and others have to identify the word. The reader can choose a common word but start with one of its less common meanings. Practice improves your performance with word puzzles which is one reason why people can prepare for IQ tests and improve their scores in them.

f. Learn to listen to yourself

In just the same way that you critically review your draft writing in order to sharpen it, you should try to do the same with your speech. If it is possible, try to view some video clips of yourself speaking. This is particularly useful it you are rehearsing for an important talk or presentation. Most people are surprised to discover that they display a number of errors or bad habits in their everyday speech.

For example many people pepper their talk with filler words or phrases such as ‘like,’ ‘well,’or ‘you know’. Hesitation, repetition, rambling and mumbling are other common faults. Try to change these patterns.

Rudyard Kipling wrote, ‘Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.’ They can paint amazing images, inspire and intoxicate. If you continually work on developing your range of words and skills with words then you will reap the rewards. Blow your mind and transform your world!

Sparking the way of learning

When we measure the creativity of young children, virtually all of them will record as being ‘highly creative’. However, only a small percentage of adults register as being ‘highly creative’. What have happened? Probably, schooling have crushed creativity for sure. We were told to color within the lines. We were taught to follow instructions. The goal of any school is to get the “right” answer. Unfortunately, if you’re afraid to be wrong, you’ll never be creative or original. The job of education is to produce employees who follow instructions. And to this endeavor, they are doing a very good job. However, in terms of creativity, they are falling terribly short. This is one of the most unfortunate realities in our current education system.

To undo this, we must continually exercise our creative juices. That’s why I have assambled together  these five tips or hints for expanding your creativity.

a. Try to keep a notebook and pencil on hand at all times.

It seems from realily that ideas are like in-laws, you never know when they’re coming over to visit. By keeping a notebook around, you will always be able to capture your ideas at any time of the day. Leonardo da Vinci was well known for keeping a journal of his ideas. His notebooks are now prized possessions that hold the many creative and genius thoughts of this master thinker, painter, and inventor. His notebooks were filled with plans for flying machines, a parachute, a helicopter, the extendable ladder, the bicycle, folding furniture, and a number of automated tools for increasing productivity. Yes, I am so proud to say that Leonardo da Vinci was a very productive thinker. A blank page is an open invitation for the creative and curious mind. The simple act of writing gets you into a creative flow that can last for hours. The free-flowing, exploratory practice of keeping a journal encourages freedom of thought and expanded perspectives. You have to try it to discover this.

2. The second key to creativity is to ask questions restlessly.

Something that is so important to understand is that questions are the root of all knowledge and creativity. By continually asking questions about the world around us, we fuel our creative fire and our imagination. Great minds are those who have asked the most interesting questions; for instance, Leonardo da Vinci asked such questions as: “why does the thunder last a longer time than that which causes it?” and “why is the sky blue?” and “why the blood is red?” Socrates asked such questions as: “what is wisdom?” or “what is piety?” or  “what is beauty?” or many other related questions which were the interest of his times. As a young boy in high school, Albert Einstein asked himself (and to the professor of physics), “what would it be like to run beside a light beam at the speed of light?” and spent more a decade responding technically and correctly this very question using the technique of visualization called, Gedanken experiment. A number of inventions have been created by asking one simple question… “what if…..?” By asking questions we increase our level of consciousness and our perspective of the world and the reality around it.

c. To become a creative thinker, you must also be a voracious reader.

Reading enhances your mental ability and lets you experience the world from a brand new perspective. When we read a book, we let go of our own perspectives and experience the world from the characters that have been crafted by the author. I have found in my own life that the more I read, the more I want to know. Reading becomes an insatiable desire and an unquenchable thirst. And reading is like traveling, it makes you to broaden your experiences and ideas and insights. The key in reading is to choose those books that you may find very interesting, but also those books which can help you to learn something new or give you a complete picture of a new world of reality. Also, you have to look for areas of expertise in a book you never wander around before. This new venture will open up to you new brand perspectives and, probably, much fun as well.

d. Try to seek out new experiences.

Our minds are much like a garden. Without proper care, the weeds will take over. Nothing sparks the mind like learning something new. If you want to expand your creativity, then learn a new skill. It can be anything you choose. Learn a new language. Learn to water ski. Learn to play an instrument. Pick up photography or even try a new sport. Learn to play the piano. Live in Paris for at least six months. Start college—or finish it. Learn Greek or Hebrew or German or Chinese. Take a hot-air ballooning trip. Swim with dolphins. Do something life-changing for a person or family in need without their knowing you did it. Start your own business. Take a trip around the most inusual sites of your country. Learn countryside cooking. Start lettering or friendship with old folks or wise men and women living in the countryside. Dusted your math. Look for rare species in your own country or backyard. Learn astronomy. Write a book about some theme you’re interested on. Look for the real history of your own place. As you can realize, the list could be go on and on and on… All of these activities get your mind working outside of its regular patterns. Try them and you can discover the fascinanting process of being alive and learning.

e. Become a whole-brain thinker.

There are generally two-types of people in this world: left-brained and right-brained. In most cases, people are either analytical thinkers who enjoy math, science, and logic or they are highly imaginative and creative individuals who focus on the big-picture. Unfortunately, our school systems generally cater to those who are left-brained analytical thinkers. This has created a world of employees who are very good at following directions but are not so good at developing new ideas. To break the mold, we must become whole-brain, holistic thinkers. You can do this by using a powerful method known as mind mapping. Mind mapping has been used by some of history’s greatest brains, including Michelangelo, Mark Twain, Leonardo da Vinci, and Enrico Fermi.

Mind mapping is a whole-brain activity that will awaken your creative side as well as your analytical side. Mind mapping will also help you to generate new ideas when needed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using it for personal goal setting, problem solving, or simply to become a more creative, whole-brain thinker. Our mind works in pictures, associating one idea to the next. Mind mapping allows you to continue this natural thought process on paper. Mind mapping is one of the most powerful tools for awakening your creativity.