The gift of a clear view

By Melissa Aase, CEO of University Settlement

This year I found words for something that has long bothered me: “toxic positivity,” the knee-jerk reaction to put on a smile and just move on, to say things are fine when they are not.

It’s a concept that feels relevant this holiday season, when many members of our communities are struggling to feel particularly festive.

So let’s acknowledge: things are messy, and we have a lot of work to do.

Since COVID first arrived, everyone’s been talking about how this totally ubiquitous, entirely inequitable experience has turned theworld upside down.

But when we at University Settlement look at the wounds exposed by this long crisis – in our economy, our healthcare system, in our race relations, in our democracy – we can’t say any come as asurprise.

Our biggest problems predate the pandemic, and they’ll never be solved without being faced.

If we hurry to pretend that everything’s normal again, slapping some band-aids on these fundamental issues, we’ll miss out on agenerational opportunity to heal and grow.

That we can see so much of the mess so clearly, all at once, might be understood as a gift the crisis has given us.

Perhaps that sounds pessimistic, but here’s the thing – I truly believe we can find a sustainable way toward self-determination for everyone and every community.

That’s what we’re here for. That’s what we’re all about. Not because we think we’re saviors, or superheroes (because those ideas are bankrupt), but because we understand that we’re all in this together, and no one is free until everyone is.

As you know, University Settlement has some ideas about how we can build a more equitable society together. They’re core to how we operate, and we’ll continue to be guided by them, as we will continue to advocate for our neighbors and communities to be prioritized.

There’s no telling where we’re going. And while that’s scary, during this crisis we’ve also learned a lot about limitations of plans and maps. As an agency, as a community, we’ve had to make extremely hard decisions every single day, without prior experience, without instructions, without coordinated guidance.

Without a map, we used our compass.

In the new year, we will continue reminding ourselves of our true north – our mission and strategic goals, our settlement house values and methodologies, and our relationships with each other and our many communities – and keep heading in that direction.

We don’t have to know everything to take our next step. We never did know it all, and we never will. What’s most important is having some clarity on our desired destination, and the right tools to get started.

Your support empowers US to keep moving. We’re so fortunate to have one another, and to be able to take our next step together.

Wishing you and your loved ones a restorative holiday. 

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