I have a confession to make. While I love writing and I enjoy expressing myself in that medium (and love it even more when other folks actually read it), I myself was not much of a reader. This is a huge problem for me since most writers also enjoy reading (or at the very least, are good at it). I end up writing a lot, enough to a point that many of my readers probably stop halfway through due to the length.
The truth is, I do actually like to read; except that when it comes to reading, I don’t do very much of it. When I was growing up, I was always reading something that was what seemed to be “beyond” what my peers were reading. I mean, I read the first five books of the Bible (613 laws and I still can’t remember all of them) in the 6th grade, Stephen King’s Carrie (still surprised that his publishers never edit his work) in the 8th grade, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (that’s pronounced GAHD-oh, by the way) in 9th grade, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (the bourgeoisie is evil) in 10th grade, and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto (may the proletariat rise) in 11th grade. Did I mention that I read all of these things on my own time without instruction from any of my teachers?
When I was in high school, the Accelerated Reader program was in its foundation stages, and I took the assessment test for it in 9th grade. Despite my peers being at or below their grade level in reading, I was one of the rare cases that hit 12.9 overall in comprehension and vocabulary. I honestly believe that the program must’ve been broken, because that meant there was no level for me to “accelerate” to because 12.9 was the highest level they went to at the time.
There was no way in hell I was going to read college-level material in high school. My friends are reading all the fun stuff like Harry Potter and I got stuck with some of the highest-level books that I’m sure even college students had trouble reading if they didn’t have instruction. Needless to say, I tried picking up Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which I believe was assessed as a 10th grade level of reading. After 50 pages and 100 distractions later, I gave up. Reading was not my forte.
And that became a problem for me once I got into college. I was amazing enough to get by in high school with my abilities and things, but I never truly enjoyed the work that was involved in getting through all of it. By the time I got to college, my assumptions of success without trying very hard became a farce. Over time, I had to leave one college to transfer to another, hoping that somehow I’d be able to find my niche and squeeze by. Three colleges later, I graduated, and yet I wonder how I actually made it. I still don’t have a regular stable job, I still want to improve myself, and I still don’t really read a whole lot, like I would like to.
When I was in a real slump in my life, I decided to take another reading assessment test. This time it was the Nelson-Denny, an assessment that specifically tests for reading ability. It turns out that I am perfectly normal in both vocabulary and comprehension in reading, but I was below average in “speed” (yes, there is a time assessment in reading); far below, if I can recall. What this means is that the time it takes me to read and analyze what I am reading takes a significantly longer time for me to do than that of an average person. So despite being the amazing person I was in high school, it became clear to me in college that I was in fact just as human as everyone else!
I occasionally contemplate on what I did right back then and why I am not doing it now in the present. That’s when I remembered William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, and how a certain character helped me in high school.
Jack Merridew is the leader of the choir boys in Golding’s classic, and eventually becomes the antagonist to the main character Ralph. Despite being a villainous bastard, he is a natural-born leader. He’s charismatic, he already has a group of followers, and when the circumstances asked for one to rise and lead the boys to survival, he took the chance with both feet forward. Sure, he had a mean-streak and only cared about sustenance on a deserted island by any means necessary (even if it meant killing his own), but he was, in my opinion, a great leader. When I took the California High School Exit Exam, the essay question asked who I thought was a great leader and why; the choice was clear: Jack Merridew.
As a result, I earned a perfect score on that essay, and therefore passing the exam. And throughout high school, I, like Jack, was the driving force to take initiative in leadership; whether it was being an editor for the school newspaper or piloting my high school’s pending International Baccalaureate program.
And yet, even in the novel, Jack was not in full control. As many readers may imply, the Lord of the Flies had enticed Jack, and made him a naive boy leader who only sought bloodlust, regardless of his background as a former choir boy. It turns out that in the novel, it is Ralph who finds a way to return home from the island and, despite his differences, would allow Jack and his gang to also return (or at least that’s what’s implied). Ralph was elected the leader of the boys early on under circumstances that allowed him to do so (since he was in the most neutral position amongst all the survivors). He was never very confident with his leadership role or ability, and yet he wholeheartedly focused on the main objective (finding a way out) and protecting the weakest boys while he was at it. Truly Ralph was the ideal leader in this novel, but lacked the confidence and charisma that Jack had.
I’ve come to realize that I must learn from the leadership styles of both Jack and Ralph to help me out in life. I must learn from Ralph, the idealist, because his heart was always in the right place, while also taking from Jack, the realist, who had no fear in taking on responsibilities that others may have otherwise neglected.
Such is the way life itself is in many ways. We must learn to take examples from one source, its opposition, and find a balance between them that works for us as individuals. Jack may have helped me in high school, but now it’s time that I learn from Ralph as well.