01 August 2010


SOCIAL TIES. This is not quite news to many of us, but the reminder is important. A new meta-study confirms that maintaining strong social ties improves our physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. The conclusion dovetails nicely with the observations of Eric Weiner in his book The Geography of Bliss. Weiner found among ten nations he visited, across economic, geographic and cultural differences, the common denominator for personal happiness is social bonding -- with family, with friends, with life partners or lovers. My own life experience aligns with this principle. The happiest passages saw me engaged in my community (in music, in peer counseling, in mediation, in book discussion groups), and sorrounded by friends and loved ones. For me, having direct access to the natural world counts for a lot, too. Alas, at the moment nearly all of my friends are scattered across the continent (indeed, around the world), and I feel their absence. It's time to "seek out new life forms and new civilizations .... ", or something like that.

LANGUAGES. As one who survived (and sometimes thrived in) two years of high school Latin, and a year each of college-level Spanish and French, plus twenty years of being enriched in the bilingual (Spanish and English) culture of southern Arizona, it seems clear to me that I learn most thoroughly through daily immersion in a language, rather than through reading and writing in a classroom. Today's NYTimes reports yet another way in which the Internet is broadening our horizons -- the existence of websites "devoted to helping people learn languages by swapping messages [with those who speak a different language] over the Internet and correcting each other's messages." Websites such as livemocha and mylanguageexchange offer varying degrees of structure, and an impressive array of language choices. Icing on the cake -- friendships often form between pairs of mutual tutors. Sounds like a win-win proposition.

THE WALL. I've visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, several times. As a veteran of that war, the feelings that surface are intense -- grief, fear, catharsis. Yet that intensity is no reason to avoid the experience. The Memorial is brilliantly designed, and a moving experience for nearly every visitor. One of my good friends sent me an email with a link to a service called virtualwall.org, which allows anyone to search for the names of service men and women listed on the Wall. If you are of the Vietnam generation, a veteran or family member or friend, or if you simply want to learn more about that experience, this service is one possible starting point.

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