What Really Matters in Life?

Residents of Monroe County ponder the question.

Myra Saturen,


What do people consider a well-lived life?  Participants in Northampton Community College's Update program pondered the question on October 27 in Update Programconjunction with this year's National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) exploration of "The Good Life." Update is a series of presentations and discussions offered primarily for community residents over 50, although people of all ages are welcome.  It is available on both the Bethlehem and Monroe Campuses.

Led by Professor of English Cara McClintock-Walsh, members of the Update group in Monroe County viewed slides of a student trip to New York City's museums of Metropolitan Art and Natural History.  Comparing and contrasting the artifacts of earlier periods with today's objects, McClintock-Walsh asked participants how today's possessions measure up. 

Themes of permanence and impermanence, personal communication and remote communications emerged in a thoughtful conversation.  "Everything we have in our country is new," said one participant, unlike the ancient vases of the Roman Empire.  Other ideas expressed included...

Obsolescence prevails in today's world.  A smartphone will soon be out-of-date.  Everything seems to change every 15 minutes.

In-person conversation has become rarer.  So much communication is now distant and electronic.

Where did letter-writing go?

Whatever we make today is disposable tomorrow. 

A cellphone lacks aesthetic qualities.

Some participants expressed other views of modernity.  One woman whose husband drove a tractor-trailer recalled the days before cellphones and texting, when she might not know his location for several days. 

One man, an architect, pointed out that art works such as buildings, paintings and sculptures were and are still made to last. 

McClintock-Walsh asked the participants what they considered The Good Life and how their concepts have changed over their lives.  Surveying her life's stages, one woman remarked that each phase has had its own priorities.  She now most values the ability to enjoy life in good health as she gets older.  Other ideals included financial security, especially for today's struggling young people; family; peace; happiness; and joy.  A simple life, uncluttered with "things," meant a good life to at least two people in the room that morning. One participant added comfort to simplicity. 

Ken Kochey, a retired NCC administrator, professor of math emeritus and part of the original staff and faculty, cherishes his wife, Sharon, the first NCC graduate, and values his lasting association with the College.  "I enjoy interacting with people from a variety of backgrounds and who have a variety of interests," Kochey said.  He also likes the large spectrum of topics presented.  

The Update series itself enhances participants' lives.  "I learn new things.  I learn something from every presentation," said Patricia Kutzler.

For more information on the Update series, go to northampton.edu/lifelearn.  To learn more about the NEH series, go to northampton.edu/NEH.