The Case for Kindness

After reflecting on 30 years of producing In The Hills, editor Signe Ball believes that what holds our community together is the willingness of people to care for other people.

November 27, 2023 | | Editor’s Desk

To recognize our 30th anniversary, each issue this year has included a spread called “In Retrospect,” a selection of past stories, loosely based on themes that have occupied our attention over the last three decades – the environment, aggregates, population growth and the like.

For this instalment, we decided to focus on people. As I sifted through back issues, the focus became sharper. It’s people, of course. But more than that, what holds our community – any healthy community – together is the willingness of people to care for other people.

Adelaide Hoodless founded the Women’s Institutes in 1897, after her baby died from drinking impure milk. She was also a key player in establishing the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Adelaide Hoodless founded the Women’s Institutes in 1897, after her baby died from drinking impure milk. She was also a key player in establishing the National Council of Women and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

One of the stories that popped up was a piece by Ken Weber on the history of Women’s Institutes, those mostly rural local organizations of women who have devoted themselves to “home and country” for more than a century. Though now reduced in numbers, local chapters of the WI continue to advocate on behalf of women, children and community well-being.

Ken’s story included a sidebar titled “Words to Live By” – quoting the WI prayer, called “The Mary Stewart Collect.” It caught my attention on this reading as never before. I read it several times. I printed and posted it above my desk. I shared it with family and friends.

It begins: “Keep us, O Lord, from pettiness; let us be large in thought and deed.” It concludes: “And may we strive to touch and know the great human heart, common to us all, and, O Lord, let us not forget to be kind.” (You can read the whole prayer on page 31.)

What was so different about reading the prayer now compared with when Ken quoted it in 2009? It was not so very long ago, but 2009 was before runaway fire, drought and flood, before the plague of Covid, before fake news, before Trump, before Israel and Gaza (again), before Putin and Ukraine. It was no golden age back then, all our current troubles were already fomenting, but it does seem that something essential to the human spirit has grown terribly frayed in the past decade and a half, as anger, vitriol and self-righteousness have increasingly dominated of our social discourse.

It’s easy to get caught up in that discourse. It fills our airwaves, our social media. But it divides and weakens us. And as I was reminded going through those past issues, and by the local heroes and other extraordinary people profiled in this issue, it’s not our whole story.

The WI prayer should not be dismissed as Hallmark sentimentality. It is a stark and universal call to human decency, to our better selves. There is seemingly so much we can’t control, but we can remember that the great human heart is common to us all. We can be kind.

About the Author More by Signe Ball

Signe Ball is publisher/editor of In The Hills.

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