Partial to Home: A case for kindness


Birney Imes



"Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us."


-- The 14th Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual leader, b.1935




What can I do? It's a question a lot of people have been asking these past few days. How to deal with this ongoing feeling of helplessness, at home and in Washington.


Two suggestions. Write our Congressional representatives. It's easy to do. They all have web pages with contact forms.


Suggestion No. 2 is just as easy; it costs nothing and requires only your attention: Try a little kindness.


Not only will it benefit the recipient; it will benefit you.


So posits Marta Zaraska, who in her recently published "Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100," offers a convincing case for kindness and friendship as the most effective means of achieving well-being and longevity.


According to Zaraska, we embrace various diets, vitamin supplements, miracle foods and the latest cardio workouts, while science shows that friendships, purpose in life, empathy and kindness can be twice as effective in lowering mortality rates.


One example she cites is The Roseto Effect, so named for a small, close-knit community in eastern Pennsylvania settled by immigrants from southern Italy in the 1880s.


For decades, the people of Roseto were able to maintain their traditions and lifestyles from the old country. In time the community's abnormally low number of heart attacks and high number of centenarians attracted the attention of researchers studying longevity.


At first scientists suspected these Italians were benefiting from a Mediterranean diet, but the staple of Roseto residents was meatballs and sausage, often cooked in lard. They smoked and drank wine with abandon.


Scientists eventually reached the conclusion that a sense of community was the source of their longevity. At one time there were 22 civic clubs in this town of 2,000.


Volunteering, taking care of public spaces and caring for each other -- it was not uncommon for several generations of a family to live under one roof -- resulted in extraordinary good health.


In the 70s and 80s the community succumbed to the "American Dream," moving to the suburbs, buying cars and working longer hours, writes Zaraska. Guess what happened? Their health drifted down to the American average.


Zaraska argues that human connection -- something greatly reduced in the COVID era -- is not just a want, but a need. Studies show that loneliness leads to high blood pressure and depression.


Many have used this time to reconnect with old friends.


As I write this an old high school friend phoned from Texas where he now lives.


I know three ladies who meet for tea on a front porch once a week, cold weather notwithstanding. Friday they enjoyed their tea and conversation swaddled in blankets.


The daughter of a friend was having a challenging day in her job as a cashier in a large grocery store. A customer noticed and as she was paying for her groceries told the young girl to pick out a candy bar. She wanted to buy it for her. The small gesture transformed a dreary day. Both the giver and recipient were nourished.


Don't wait a moment longer. Pick up the phone, write a letter, show a stranger kindness.


It will make a difference. For them and for you.




Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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