December 2010 Archives

Good People

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Recently I got a mild flu. Actually, it wasn't all that mild, but its main symptom was bizarre weakness and dizziness when standing, so I lay down a lot and felt okay. I considered this particular flu an excellent illness. The first day, I felt way too lousy to conduct business and errands, and, besides, no one wanted me around because I looked like someone who had recently climbed out of her tomb. So I stayed on the couch and malingered.

Malingering is an art that has been helped along exponentially by the Internet. Malingerers used to have to watch Guiding Light and read People magazine. Now we have at our fingertips the ultimate malingering mechanism--the Web, which serves up You Tube videos and email correspondences and astrological projections and bizarre recipes for rhubarb and, miraculously, TED lectures.

TED lectures are a few cuts above Oprah, but not so many cuts above that a sick person like myself can't follow along. I first came across them a couple of years ago, when my daughter sent me a TED talk by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuro-anatomist who suffered a stroke when a blood clot shut down the left hemisphere of her brain. My daughter sent me that particular lecture because I had been working on a book that included essays on the neuroscience of memory, and she thought I might be interested in what this fascinating woman had to say about being a brain scientist who got to watch the left side of her brain shut down, step by step, and know what was happening as it happened.

This may not sound like a good thing for a sick person to watch, but the single unifying reality of the TED lectures, as far as I can tell, is that they are uplifting. Of course, over time this can be a bit much. No one wants to be uplifted for hours on end, especially when suffering from the flu. But if I watch only a few, I am left with a certainty that I seldom feel--that the world is full of good, bright, determined people working for our betterment.

The format is simple: each of these remarkable folks stands in front of a huge audience, in some glitzy venue approximately the size of the Roman coliseum, and speaks for eighteen minutes on a subject of her or his choice. Often the subject is some astounding project the person started and now manages, the goal of which is to end world hunger and reduce carbon emissions to prehistoric rates. The only imperfection I have found so far is that there seem to be many more men than women on the giant stage, but TED is addressing that as I write with a TED Women's Conference, so I give them points for trying.

It turns out that these men and women are much better company during illness than the benighted characters of Guiding Light, although I was once a big Guiding Light fan and would never try to pose as person above the fray of soap operas. But I find myself hungry for good news these days, and I can't help but think that there's something innately healing about malingering in the company of good people.
TED talks

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