Cultivating the reading habit presents any person with the greatest of gifts.

This ability to read most people take for granted. Even for a child, learning the alphabet and reading children’s literature opens up a wonderful world of discovery and knowledge.

Reading opens up the world to anyone.

Mankind’s most valuable sons may very well be Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press in 1439, and Andrew Carnegie, the American steel tycoon, who donated his vast wealth in the early 1900’s to build free public libraries around the world.

The printing and easy availability of books opens the world to the average individual all over the earth.

These two inventions, the printing press and free libraries, ushered in the era of meritocracy, whereby anyone could rise in the world, based purely on merit – skill, talent, knowledge and hard work.

For the past 50 years the world has steadily expanded basic and functional literacy. Now, most people in every country could read and write.

The beauty of the 21st century is that functional literacy is a global reality, and information and knowledge flow freely everywhere. Anyone can dip into its stream and receive, freely.

But so many neglect such a great blessing. So many suffer because they refuse to really embrace these gifts – reading and writing.

Reading opens up a world of delight because it endows one’s mind with comprehension, being able to understand the workings of life, nature and people.

Whereas writing endows a person with the ability to compose and express thoughts and ideas into stylistic prose, reading allows for understanding. First, there is comprehension, the awareness, the understanding. Then, there is composition and the expression of that which is understood.

These two, reading and writing, go hand in hand.

And they make up the most amazing gifts any person could embrace in this world.

Yet, so many neglect developing their reading habit. And even more neglect developing their writing skills.

To neglect these gifts means we are wasting our ability to understand life, and we are wasting the gift of being able to express ourselves well.

To understand life is to gain knowledge. And what is better than knowledge? We go to school and university to gain knowledge so we could live a successful life.

And to express ourselves with style and eloquence is to be able to participate well in society, to rub shoulders with other human beings relatively successfully.

If any person today were to focus and dedicate time daily to develop the habit of reading, that person would see a dramatic increase in his or her living standard.

All over our country we should encourage the art of reading.

The Ministry of Culture ought to incorporate reading – of fiction, poetry, drama, newspapers and magazines – as a community activity in every village and town in this nation.

Reading rooms and libraries should be icons in every village, every community centre.

The greatest gift we could give the next generation is the reading habit.

Reading a good newspaper to engage in one’s community as a habit, studying literature books for recreation and pleasure, delving into magazines like ‘The Atlantic’, ‘Foreign Affairs’ and ‘Forbes’ for ideas and insights, and browsing online blogs and articles for information all work to build character, depth of thinking and the ability to deal with the social storms of life.

If every person were to escape the failures of government, shun the cultural decay that stifles the society, and just spend time reading, what a different society we would cultivate.

A person’s life is like a garden. It needs good seeds planted, careful tending and cultivation of the mind, and a social environment that is fertile and conducive to good health. This environment should be free of pests and bugs and parasites.

How does anyone create such an oasis to be able to grow and develop?

One way is to read good books, newspapers, magazines and online information.

Reading is the gift that completely transforms any person from mediocre living to exceptional achievement.

No one achieves anything of worth and value in this world without dedicating their days to learning and understanding, to embracing knowledge.

Some may use brute force and violence to get what they want, but these do not last the test of time.

Every person today could embrace this self-development tool of reading.

Anyone can walk into a library, pick up a book or newspaper or magazine and read. And do it again tomorrow, and the next. And make it a daily habit.

The ability to acquire knowledge is the greatest asset anyone could possess. And knowledge is free, easily available and rewards its seeker with wisdom and understanding.

In our country, 98 percent of the population learn to read and write in early schooling, at least at a basic level.

All a person needs is to know the alphabet. The rest is up to the individual. Any person could take on the task of self-development. Just read as a lifestyle.

Instead of coming up with excuses as to why life is such a challenge, if our young people and senior people would cultivate reading as a habit, what a different society we would build.

We neglect and waste our most precious gift, and then complain and whine that we are not given our just due.

No one can hold back the one who reads constantly and seeks to uplift him or herself.

“It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good, to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library”, Carnegie said.

He knew what reading could do for a person, for he became the richest man in the world, and built libraries in every country. He left us this advice: “Think of yourself as on the threshold of unparalleled success. A whole, clear, glorious life lies before you. Achieve! Achieve!”

Do it with the tool of reading, as a lifestyle.

We have what it takes to be a great nation in the 21st century: enough of our citizens reading as a daily habit.