Speech delivered by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at ‘All Who Can Read Should Read’ Campaign

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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivers the opening speech at “All Who Can Read Should Read” campaign in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: MNA

When Saya Dr. Pe Myint asked me to speak at this event, I took it that his aim was for me to ask all to read. It is because I cherish books and has a habit of reading actively. But I wonder whether these abilities are good enough to speak fully about the benefit of reading.
Yesterday evening Saya Pe Myint gave me an opportunity to have dinner and discuss with writers from all over the country. Even before attending the dinner, I was thinking why people write. I thought the writers will be able to answer this question so once I sat at the table I asked this question. Why do you write? Before I went there I found two reasons. One is to share your experience and feelings. The other is to influence others with your thoughts and ideas. To make people think like you do and to influence the thoughts. I thought these will be the only reasons and if others come up, it will come back to this two.
For example, in ordinary writing, we share our experience with our friends. Where we go, what we did etc. To make friends remain close and keep in touch. Sometimes we write so that other will think as we do. We want them to think in such a way for some reason. We want to influence them. I believe that basically there’ll be these two reasons only.
I understand that the Sayas and Sayamas also agree in general with me. Maybe the writer wants to share or wants to influence. We also should think why people read. I understand this event is about aesthetic literature. Non-fiction is unavoidable as we need to read subjects that we study.
This is not only students but those who are already working also need to read non-fiction so that they can do their works properly. I don’t think I’ll need to explain further on this. As for aesthetic literature, except for some books that are specifically assigned at schools, study or at work, we read those because of our hobby. I think this is a practice or a habit. This depends upon the surrounding, our family, our school, our teachers etc.
To be able to read and to want to read is a practice. However, even though the teachers teach in one way and families provide support and lead in a single way, all students, sons and daughters do not come out in one single format. All don’t have an equal interest and hobbies. In general, in families where parents read, their offspring also read mostly. But their reading rates are not the same. The level of reverence they had on books is not the same. Some have high regards for books while some don’t think too much about it. You’ll notice the difference by simply looking at two kids reading a book. Some are deeply engrossed in the book. Their minds, hearts, everything is in the book.
Some read for a while and then look around here and there. Looks as though they are wondering when they’re going to finish the book or when the reading time will end. This is an ingrained habit that we couldn’t change. But scientist said even DNA could change in a single life span. Depending upon our surrounding, our effort, we can change our habit. So we should not say that this habit couldn’t be changed. This answer is not sufficient. If there is practice, we can change our habit.
Now we’ll have to ask why we must work toward having a habit and a strong desire to read. I’ll ask myself. Why do I cherish books? Why I’m enthusiastic to read? It is because it is beneficial for me. Acquiring knowledge is one thing. This is a practical thing.
However, when I read, I feel satisfied and happy. I felt like my world has become bigger. My world is not a world where I’m there alone. I felt as though it is a world where many people are also there. I’m interested in an incident that occurs quite recently when I met and discussed aesthetic literature with students from Yangon university. Some may remember this incident.
Many youths had read the Myanmar translation of “The Catcher in the Rye.” When I mentioned that book, the first three youths were saying about their appreciation but the fourth or fifth youth said that he/she didn’t like the book at all. Some in the audience cheered. I felt like breaking out into a laugh. The preceding persons were saying they like the book and then this one comes out to say he/she didn’t like it so maybe this portion of the audience was applauding on the courage of this person who dares to come out against the mainstream thoughts. Maybe they themselves don’t like it and did not dare to go against the mainstream opinions and then when there was someone who opposed the mainstream opinions they applauded. They all have the right not to like it.

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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi writes on a slate as she visits the booths of the ‘All Who Can Read Should Read Campaign at Myanmar International Convention Centre-II in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: MNA

But I don’t agree with the reason why that person didn’t like the book. That person didn’t like the book because it was not like their nature, surrounding or culture. The benefit of reading is to know things that are different from us, our surroundings, our nature and our culture. It is to know that not everyone thinks like us or do things as we do. In this world, there are many cultures, thoughts and traditions. They are not the same. We may like or not like things that are different from us. But not to like a book because it didn’t reflect our surroundings, our nature, our culture etc. is a view that is not acceptable for me.
We want our youngsters to read. Reading will widen their world. As I said earlier, by reading, I widen my world. It is not about me that I know but I get to know how others know. It is not about how I felt but I get to know how others felt. These are what aesthetic literature gives you. That is why I read.
Sometimes, we read aesthetic literature because of the writing style. The way the writer is presenting his/her views, thoughts and feelings. We simply could not put down the book.
Sometime, the writing is not very good. But the theme is interesting. What will happen next? When I read a crime or detective stories, I try to think ahead and determine who the perpetrator or felon is and read on to confirm my thoughts. We sometimes read quickly because we want to know how it ends. This is one type. Sometimes we read a book because we got to know new things. The writing style may not be good. The story may not be good. But we got to know things that we didn’t know. For example, when we read a book on a country that we didn’t know, we get to know the culture, the history of that country and their views. This is somewhat close to non-fiction. The best is to have all three. The writing, the story, the knowledge or insights of a place/thing etc. as it will widen our world.
Recently under the arrangement of Saya Dr. Pe Myint I met with Myanmar Press Council members where I asked Sayagyi U Ohn Kyaing. What is news and what is it for? It is my habit to ask such questions. Since I was young, I asked elders what is it and what is it for? Why this happens? Why it was called as such? Why we must believe this etc?
I asked this to Sayagyi U Ohn Kyaing. We discussed and in the end he concluded and said that a news is true, beneficial, written in a way that is bearable for whom it was written about, with consideration given towards whether it should be written or not or is valuable. I agree with him. It is not only news but so is literature. But some will say how about contentious matters? Art is not about giving lessons or to make your surrounding or society better. It is not to make things better or worse. It is simply doing or saying things for the sake of doing or saying only as an art.
In that case there wouldn’t be things like being true, beneficial, bearable, consideration, valuable etc. It is written because that is how the writer wants to write it or think that should be written. Some have this view. Aesthetic literature couldn’t be taken as being true. Everyone knows about myths that are simply not realistic or true like flying horses. But if a story for children based on a flying horse make youngsters and children acquire the habit of reading, we could not say such a book is not good as it is beneficial.
There will be a lot to discuss on the bearable portion. Whether it is news or aesthetic literature is there a need to think if it is bearable or not? Who decides to write because it should be written and doesn’t matter whether it is bearable or not? We don’t know. From the side of the parents, scolding is something akin to teaching. We can say it is beneficial even though a bit unbearable.
On aesthetic literature I don’t want to discuss along this line. We have different views. Whether it is beneficial or not? I have a duty to review whether it is beneficial to encourage reading. Some say reading good books is beneficial and reading bad books are not beneficial. But we know whether it is good or bad only when we read. The more we read, the more we know which book is good and which is not. Which is valuable and which is worthless. Without reading, we wouldn’t know.
Some well-known writers read a book and write reviews about it. From these reviews, we’ll be interested or not interested in the book. Here two people are not the same. In a book review, one will say it is good and another will say it is not good. In the end, we just have to read it and judge it by ourselves. So I couldn’t say how valuable or useless reading a book is as it is something that a person should find it out themselves.
For me, it is valuable because it widens my world. It also strengthens my inner self. Reading greatly supports my development.
Nowadays we tell and urge youths not to use drugs. It will destroy your life etc. Whether it is drug, liquor, cigarette or betel nut chewing, why I don’t like those practices is that it is using outside matters to find your inner self. Everyone knows that an alcoholic likes it because it brings him/her happiness. Or he/she is unhappy, argued and fought with his/her parents. Some consume it to congratulate themselves on passing an examination. When there is a will to consume alcohol, there will be many reasons to do so. Cigarette is also the same. It is depending on an outside source for your inner self.
As we went through our political movement, many of our comrades were interned. During those times some were miserable because they were unable to have liquor, cigarette, betel nut. This is making up a misery. Why consume those things in the first place? Not good for health and extra expenses. Instead of smoking I told them why don’t you just torch your money? It is the same. But it wouldn’t damage your health. If a person buys a cigarette with money it is the same as burning the money. Worse is that it effects the health of that person as well as anyone nearby. This is what I don’t like. It is depending on outside matters to rely on. Once addicted, it will affect you. Without it, you couldn’t live.
A book addict will want to read books and will yearn for it if there were no books. But when they don’t have books, they can think about the books that they had read and renew their strengths and spirits. But an addict to cigarette will not be satisfied thinking about the thousands they lighted up. They wouldn’t be satisfied until they have a real cigarette. But a person who reads a lot and cherishes books always has a friend nearby. The books that person had read will be that person’s friends for life. Not a simple friend but dependable friends. Friends who are always at your side saying do this and you’ll get this. That is why I encourage reading. It is beneficial for you. You’ll get knowledge. It will strengthen your resolves. Read appropriate books for you. As mentioned earlier, appropriateness is something that you’ll have to find out by reading more.

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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi poses for a documentary photo together with attendees at the All Who Can Read Should Read Campaign at Myanmar International Convention Centre-II in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday. Photo: MNA

Before this ability is obtained, teachers and parents must help the children. Make the children read books and as they come of age, they’ll select books that are good for them. They’ll know this book is good for me and this is not. They’ll know which books, which authors are good through comparisons. At first it’ll be under the guidance of the elders.
Later, they’ll reach a stage where they can decide on their own. When they reach that stage they may not have the same views. This dissimilarity itself is the outcome of the dissimilarity of the books that are valuable for all. There are different views. The changes happen to you after reading a book. Some read a book for its story and didn’t think much afterwards. But the main value of a book is the thought it gives. Good writing is important. But the thoughts in the book are something that will stay with you. It will influence your life. Some writers aim for this alone. As I said earlier, writing is to share. It is to influence others. This exists in both aesthetic literature and non-fiction. I’m now talking about aesthetic literature.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that parents need to encourage their children to read since they are young. Also make a habit of discussing about the things read. The reading circles that we are conducting are just this. We review and discuss the books that we read and have a cultured discussion on differing views.
It is not having a thought that a person is an enemy because of difference. When five children read a book and have five different views, they’ll have an understanding that they are not the same and being different doesn’t mean one is good, one is bad. Combining all the thoughts will make them see things in a bigger way. This is why we encourage reading.
That is why we are supporting and encouraging libraries. This is the aim of the mobile library of Daw Khin Kyi Foundation. I believe that our people are not reading because they don’t want to. They are not reading because they don’t have books or opportunity to read it. It is with this belief that the mobile library was started. Some don’t agree but it is very effective.
We must be respectful in establishing libraries. In some libraries, there are some old books or torn magazines or school books that no one wants. As it took up space in their homes, these were donated to the library but who will read it? This will not encourage reading.
In the mobile library, we stock it up with books that children would like to read. Just by looking at the book cover will entice the youngsters to open it up and read it. We are doing it in such a way.
If the love for a book is instilled in a person since young, they’ll read for life benefiting them as well as their surroundings. Make reading a habit. It is better than smoking a cigarette. Smoking a cigarette is burning it. Reading a book is keeping something for life. Instead of spending money on cigarette and liquors, spend it on books. Donate it. If you no longer have the time or want to read it anymore, you can donate it to libraries. Donate good books to libraries. Do not donate books that you don’t want or want to throw away. Donation is not a good donation if the main aim was to clear your house of things that you don’t want. I’d like to conclude by asking for help and support in urging and encouraging youngsters to cherish books, to read and instill the habit of reading.

(Translated by Zaw Min)

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