“Reading Makes Us Better People” – Wise Counsel from Dallas Cardiologist Dr. John Harper


A while back, one of the business books I read and presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis described this interesting finding: reading books – books of fiction, works of literature – can make people more empathetic, more understanding, more… human.

So, I thought of that as I worked through my physical newspaper article stack. Let me explain: we have taken the daily newspaper every day of our adult life. So, since we moved to Dallas in 1987, that paper has been the Dallas Morning News. I glance at it occasionally, but I do most of my reading on my iPad. (Yes, I do have the Dallas Morning News bookmarked, along with numerous other news sites).

But my wife reads the newspaper. The physical newspaper. Every day. Like her mother and father before her. Her mother felt some kind of moral obligation to work all the way to the end of the paper, and when we lived in Los Angeles, she would do that with our multi-sectioned, many-paged Sunday Los Angeles Times. I still remember her sighing in relief, and maybe a little disgust, at how large the paper was, when she would finally put down the last section as she finished.

So… my wife pulls out articles that she thinks I might like, or, maybe, hints that I should read, and every now and then I work through that stack.

Doctor Prescribes BooksOkay – long introduction over. This morning, I read this article: Doctor Prescribes Books. The on-line headline was different (a frequent occurrence): A doctor’s mission: Showing why literature matters to medicineIt’s about Dr. John Harper, a cardiologist at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas. His simple philosophy:

“Reading makes us better people, and better people are better doctors.” 

From the article:

In his Friday morning Coffee With Cardiology teaching sessions, Harper doesn’t just take residents and medical students on rounds and discusses cases. He also brings music for them to absorb and essays, poems and short stories for them to read — or, he says, to “lean in and listen” as he reads aloud. He accompanies his students to museums and invites them to his home to discuss literature.

“I try to incorporate this into every time I talk to them,” Harper says on a recent Friday. “Today, Dvorak’s New World symphony was playing. It was the musical piece taken to the moon by Neil Armstrong because it reflected the new world, and we talked about electrocardiograms. All week long, I think about what I’m going to talk about that morning. I’ll reread it; make sure it’s in the right context. I’ve been doing this a long time, so it’s intrinsic to who I am.”

One more excerpt:

Literature “provokes and challenges,” he says. “It can divert. It can stimulate and motivate. One of the residents who read Mountains Beyond Mountains — the true story of infectious disease doctor Paul Farmer — “said it motivated him to be a better doctor.”

(Read the full article – it is definitely worth your time).

In Encouraging the Heart, there is a quote from Paul Hawken: “We lead by being human.” And, maybe, we become more human by reading great literature.

I spend many of my hours reading business books. I love reading most of them. But this article reminds me that I should not just read to learn business principles; I need to read many other kinds of books, especially books that seem to have such lasting value, to become more human.

Good article. Good counsel. Good doctor!

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