A man who has fallen down a flight of stairs and is covered in oatmeal that he dropped.

I Fell Down the Stairs Today

My mistake was standing at the top of the stairs with a bowl of oatmeal in one hand and a laptop in the other. I took my first step, and then somehow found myself at the bottom. Children rushed towards me. “Dad, are you ok?” I moved each appendage to see what was broken. “I’m fine,” I said, feeling ridiculous. “There’s oatmeal on the wall,” my youngest said, giggling. I stood up with the laptop intact and my pride eviscerated. I could feel a bruise on my lower back forming. And that’s when I got the idea for today’s post.

There’s a metaphor for going up and down the stairs of a home. To go down is easy, and if you’re not paying attention, percipitous. I learned that lesson today. Each step down works with gravity so that, if you wanted to, you could leap past several stairs or the entire flight in one shot. You end up lower than where you started. You become subterranean.

Climbing a set of stairs is different. You have to lean into them, give effort, and feel a burn in your legs. If you’re older, you might feel dizzy from the effort. It’s a form of exercise, strength, and repetitive work. But when you’re done, you end up in a place higher than your starting point. You become elevated. While you can still trip going up a set of stairs, I have yet to see someone fall up the whole flight.

What does this have to do with reading deeply? To be single-minded, uneducated, or satisfied with the status quo is subterranean. To go downhill as a reader is to select books that agree with what you already believe. It is to swim in the river of your confirmation bias, only seeking out authors that confirm your current assumptions.

Going up is much harder. It is to get educated, question your bias, and lean into the resistance. As a reader, you no longer seek out 10 similar books, instead you read “around” the subject. Every idea has 360 degrees of perspective. For every argument, there is a counter. It’s hard to open yourself up to another way of thinking. But this is to go upstairs. This is telling gravity it can go to hell because you’re not interested in getting oatmeal on your face.

What topic are you studying right now? Find a few others that contradict your current book and read them. Do everything you can to ascend the stairs and take in the view from above.

Until tomorrow, read slowly, take notes, and apply the ideas.


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