Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"What are you reading?" asked a familiar voice.
Startled, I looked up from my book. The willows beside my favorite park bench swayed gently in the breeze as the sun, so welcome after days of rain, radiated its heavenly heat into my face. Silhouetted against the radiant glare was my friend, the King of Rational Thought.
"Dialogues Of Plato," I announced proudly, holding up the book as he sat down next to me. "I just started it last night. It's fascinating."
I was surprised to see a frown flicker across his face.
"I see," he said quietly. "I presume you're reading it for entertainment?"
"Well, yeah, uh, I guess so," I said. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I notice that you're about a third finished with it already."
"Yes, I am. I've read about 100 pages."
He looked at me. "Since last night?"
"Uh, yeah. I started it around nine o'clock."
He sighed. That wouldn't be unusual, except that I had never heard him sigh.
"I presume you went to work this morning and are just taking a break," he said. "That means you've read 100 pages of the Dialogues Of Plato in less than two hours, which means you're averaging about one minute a page. Correct?"
"Well, uh, yeah, I guess that's right."
"And are you getting anything from it?"
"Of course," I defended. "It's very interesting."
"Really," he said. "And just what exactly have you learned from it?"
"Uh, well, uh, let's see," I began, as my mind desperately searched for an intelligent-sounding response. "He asks lots of questions. And, um, he stood up for what he believed. And, uh, well, you know, there's lots of stuff here. I don't really know where to begin."
He smiled. "Nice try."
"Well, you don't expect me to remember it all, do you?" I was starting to feel a little defensive.
He lobbed the ball back to me. "Why are you reading it?"
That's the problem with not thinking clearly. You can delude yourself, or just skip the process altogether, but it's hard to hide when someone asks you a direct question.
Fortunately for me, he didn't wait for an answer. "No offense," he said, "but you're not reading that book. You're skating over it. Do you realize you've read 100 pages full of ideas from one of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, all in a little over an hour? That's like flying an F-14 at top speed from Las Vegas to Albuquerque and then thinking you've explored the Grand Canyon.
"There's an important principle here," he continued, "and it's one that's routinely ignored in our society. The principle is this: it's better to understand one idea clearly than a thousand ideas superficially. Do you know why?"
I was chagrined. "Uh, because I'll understand it better?"
"Yes," he replied, "but why is that important? What will it do for you?"
I chewed on it for a few seconds, then spoke. "Well, if I recall, you once said that the only way a person makes real behavior change is when an idea is clear to his or her mind. So, if I understand one idea clearly, then it can affect me. But if I know a thousand ideas only superficially, then none of them will affect me."
He smiled. "Exactly. That's why I was so surprised that you were reading the Dialogues Of Plato so quickly. If you really want to gain anything useful from that book, you've got to approach it differently. Forget about getting through it. Take one page. Just one page. Read it. Think about it. Ask questions about it. Ask questions about Socrates' questions. Ask, 'why did he ask that particular question and not a different one?' Chew on it. Ponder it. That's where the real value is."
He rose to leave.
"Thanks for stopping," I said.
"You're welcome," he replied. "Enjoy the book." And with that, he headed out of the park.
I turned back to the Dialogues Of Plato and stared at it for a while.
Then I pulled out my marker and opened the book to page one.