Five Best Friday Columns: Reflective New Year's Eve Edition

The dogs that help us, the years that mark us, the terms we make, the songs we sing, and the way we live

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  • Iain Hollingshead on Dogs Helping the Disabled  Having dogs as helpers is nothing new, but the Telegraph writer goes through an unusually comprehensive list of situations in which dogs have managed to improve the lives of those with special needs. The occasion? The piece is written partly, it seems, because Dogs for the Disabled is one of the three charities "supported by this year's Christmas appeal" from The Telegraph, a British newspaper. Hollingshead notes that the chief executive of Dogs for the Disabled remains frustrated that "the man-dog relationship has still not been properly evaluated to see how it can be harnessed in a more systematic way." People in wheelchairs, the chief notes, can be "awkward" about human interaction, but, given a canine companion, others will initiate contact with them. Dogs can be trained to block Alzheimer's patients from wandering out into the street, and help "adults with autism cope with the stress and anxiety of work," while introducing dogs to classrooms lowers "cortisol levels in autistic children." Adds Hollingshead, "another intriguing American experiment involves using dogs in courtrooms." In abuse cases, "children have found it easier to talk freely if there is a dog to stroke at the same time."
  • David Brooks on Getting Caught Up in Experiences  "For the past hundred years or so, we have lived in a secular age," writes the New York Times columnist. "That does not mean that people aren't religious. It means there is no shared set of values we all absorb as preconscious assumptions. In our world, individuals have to find or create their own meaning." He examines a new philosophy book by Berkeley's Hubert Dreyfus and Harvard's Sean Dorrance Kelly. The book argues that this lack of universal meaning "has led to a pervasive sadness. Individuals are usually not capable of creating their own lives from the ground up. So modern life is marked by frequent feelings of indecision and anxiety," and we "lack the foundations upon which to make the most important choices." Dreyfus and Kelly wind up deciding that the way to combat this is through "the most real things in life," which "well up and take us over." We shouldn't try to explain the universe but should "live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup." Through Brooks has some reservations about this interpretation, he seems attracted by the book's "rejection of the excessive individualism of the past several decades."
  • Susan Jacoby on Growing Old  Jacoby recently turned 65. It is simply not true, she argues in The New York Times to her fellow Baby Boomers, "that we can transform ourselves endlessly, even undo reality, if only we live right." In popular culture, "age-defying" simply means "age-denying." This year, she asked one doctor and aging specialist "what he thought of the premise that 90 might become the new 50." The thoughtful response: "'I'm a scientist,' he replied, 'and a scientist always hopes for the big breakthrough. The trouble with expecting 90 to become the new 50 is it can stop rational discussion--on a societal as well as individual level--about how to make 90 a better 90.'"
  • The Boston Globe Provides 'A 2010 Dictionary'  The newspaper has its writers list and explain some of the key terms of the year. Among them: primaried, Snooki, loyalty, refudiate, traumatic brain injury, retweet, bedbugs, "it gets better," Winklevi, and "top kill." Some of the terms, like "it gets better" and "refudiate," are entirely new to this year. The selection of others, like "traumatic brain injury," reflect, in the words of the Globe's Derrick Jackson, that "finally, we've ended the denial over ... the concussive blasts that afflict both the gallant soldiers of war and the gilded heroes of sport."
  • Peggy Noonan on the Actual Meaning of 'Auld Lang Syne'  The New Year's song, explains the Wall Street Journal columnist, "was written, or written down, by Robert Burns, lyric poet and Bard of Scotland. In 1788 he sent a copy of the poem to the Scots Musical Museum, with the words: 'The following song, an old song, of the olden times, has never been in print.'" Though he "revised and compressed" the lyrics, apparently "he found the phrase auld lang syne 'exceedingly expressive' and thought whoever first wrote the poem 'heaven inspired.'" Says Noonan:
The question it asks is clear: Should those we knew and loved be forgotten and never thought of? Should old times past be forgotten? No, says the song, they shouldn't be. We'll remember those times and those people, we'll toast them now and always, we'll keep them close. "We'll take a cup of kindness yet."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.