When I was seventeen years old, I thought American Beauty and Fight Club were the best movies ever made, and I said so at every opportunity. After much pestering, Mom and Dad sacrificed two evenings to watch them with me, even though they hated both movies almost from the first minute. They even sat through the credits with me, because I insisted they were part of the film.
Afterwards, Dad blew my mind by finding things to admire in my favorite movies. He let them become touchstones in a series of conversations that guided me out of adolescence. He would rather have talked Chesterton and Narnia, but for my sake he talked Tyler Durden. He was critical, as always, calling out the odd mixture of preachiness and moral emptiness in American Beauty, the narrowness and sensationalism of Fight Club. But he saw and paid respect to what he knew I had seen in the films: the power of a truthful action; and more than that, the valor of relinquishment. He helped me identify these principles and pry them away from the brittle narratives in which they were embedded.
If something has moved someone you love, you sacrifice your time and attention, and sometimes even your standards, to find out why. This was why I first read Pride and Prejudice. At the time, all I knew about the book was that many readers reacted to it with sentimental effusions, and it cut very much against the grain of my personality to expose myself to anything sentimental. But I had learned to be true, not first to myself, but to the bonds of love, and someone I loved told me that it was her favorite book. So I discovered a subtle, ethically sophisticated, and magnificently entertaining masterpiece that otherwise I would have missed. Wisdom bubbled naturally out of it, and the only thing I had to pry away was my preconceptions.
If you always refuse to read, watch, or listen to things you feel are beneath you or just “not for you,” you’re sealing yourself into a dark, dusty cell of your own preferences, and you can neither teach nor learn from others. Of course, you have to have standards. But you can’t hold them as if they only belong to you.