Partial to Home: A kinder way

August 3, 2019 7:28:55 PM

Birney Imes -


"Better to know a few things, which are good and necessary than many things which are useless and mediocre."


-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882




Earlier this summer while traveling I subjected myself to a self-imposed blackout of national and world news. I had been a news and information junkie, and with social media, talk radio, podcasts, TV and newspapers, my addiction was easy to sustain.


Going cold turkey wasn't difficult. When traveling the senses are overloaded anyway. The daily reports of world leaders acting like schoolyard punks -- chief among them ours; heart-rending stories about refugees at our border; the meanderings of a stagnant, ineffectual Congress; the unending stream of senseless deaths in the Middle East, all make for a grim narrative, regardless your political leanings.


Upon returning home I've resisted tuning in. One day, without thinking, I turned on radio news. It was like returning in to a television soap opera (or the round table at the old Kountry Kitchen) after a month-long hiatus; the story line hadn't changed.


Maybe this is a head-in-the-sand approach, but the constant diet of bad news, I believe, has had a deleterious effect on our national psyche. We seem, as a people, to be meaner, angrier, more polarized and pessimistic.


The news blackout (with the exception of this newspaper) has been good for me. My mind now seems to graze in greener pastures. I think about friends and loved ones and make a point to make contact with them. I'm reading more. I feel lighter.


One of my internet indulgences ( is a site devoted to, in the words its founder, "a one-woman labor of love. An inquiry into what it means to live a decent, substantive, rewarding life ..."


The most recent issue's examination of kindness details the compilation by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy of a book of wise thoughts for every day of the year; the English translation is titled "A Calendar of Wisdom."


For this book, finished near the end of his life, the author of "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" spent 17 years collecting the thoughts of the world's great thinkers. The compilation was first published in Russia in 1904; Tolstoy died in 1910.


As does the Emerson quote at the beginning of this column, Tolstoy concerns himself with knowledge -- that which is superfluous and that which leads to wisdom. He also supplemented his collection of great thoughts with those of his own. Here is his offering for improving society, words as true today as they were then:


"If you see that some aspect of your society is bad, and you want to improve it, there is only one way to do so: you have to improve people. And in order to improve people, you begin with only one thing: you can become better yourself."


How do we better ourselves and improve our lives? Through kindness Tolstoy believes:


"The kinder and the more thoughtful a person is, the more kindness he can find in other people. Kindness enriches our life; with kindness mysterious things become clear, difficult things become easy, and dull things become cheerful."


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