South Side Settlement House Philosophy

Photo by Courtney Hergesheimer, Columbus Dispatch

Columbus’ South Side Settlement House, which closed its doors a few years ago after a lifespan of 112 years, was one of a number of unique social service agencies that opened in imitation of Jane Addams pioneering work at Chicago’s Hull House. It played a profound shaping role in my life, and was the first place I encountered that had a distinctive philosophy that they attempted to live out in real life, an experience that deeply influenced my decision to pursue philosophy, and my approach to it as a living discipline. I here present the South Side Philosophy –or at least one of the later versions of what was always a living and changing document.

Philosophy

At South Side Settlement we believe in each person’s ability to shape his or her environment and the character of his or her society. We value the idea that all people should be fully involved in those problems which affect their lives. The creation of a democratic society demands an active, thinking citizenry unafraid of responsibility, actively experimenting with means to meet the changing needs of its members. At our house we seek to involve the people of our community in defining common problems and encourage maximum participation in developing solutions to those problems.

Inherent in our approach is a value system that encompasses the following concepts:

Our objective is “the improvement of the quality of human life through the creation of a community of culture and concern in a society rooted in economic and social justice.” We reject the goal of becoming an island unto ourselves and seek to involve all segments of our society in the fashioning of that community within the real world of human strengths and limitations. In that quest we are committed to lead out of our immediate neighborhood into the larger city, state, nation and world.

The richness of difference characterizes the meeting and interaction of human beings of inherently equal worth, yet marvelous diversity. We welcome differences of class, race, religion, sex, age, belief and background as sources of cross fertilization and enrichment, presenting possibilities of new human achievement through interdependence. The richness of difference implies mutual acceptance and trust, reciprocal respect but not necessarily approval or agreement. We reject both “tolerance” and “separatism” as implying superior and inferior worth whether so stated or not. Discrimination against and segregation of people on the basis of their differences are seen as destroyers of humanity and society.

Freedom and responsibility are inseparable. Freedom can be extended only through increasing acceptance of social responsibility. We oppose the tendency of many in our society to seek freedom without responsibility, to search for individual satisfaction divorced from social interaction and response. Only through social relationships and social structures can people protect the rights and extend the potential of every individual human being.

Conflict and struggle are as central to the task of creating a community of culture and concern as they are to human life itself. Conflict, the state in which there exists the opposition of alternatives, is neither negative nor an indication of a breakdown in our society. It exists. Life is the process of resolving an endless series of conflicts. People cannot choose to avoid conflict. They can only decide whether to participate in helping to determine its resolution or to leave that determination to others. Conflict cannot be resolved without struggle, the process of conflict resolution.

At South Side Settlement we consciously use conflict in order to create the conditions for learning, movement and change. Our settlement is an arena where ideas are consciously introduced across lines of difference. They are then examined, rejected, refined and yet again examined in order to unleash the potential for meaningful social change and the reduction of alienation.

An essential complement to the resolution of conflict is the act of sharing with family and friends the whole gamut of human emotion and experience. It includes loving and laughing and sometimes crying together; singing and dancing and reveling in the physical and psychological energy to continue on, even in the face of what at times appear to be insurmountable odds.

Program at South Side Settlement reflects the conscious testing of ideas. We see ourselves as a laboratory for social change and understand that experimentation can result in failure as well as success. We seek the courage to risk ourselves –to try, to fail, and yet to try again and succeed. Critical and constructive self-examination is central to our existence. We strive for excellence and reject perfectionism.

Implicit in this system of values is the recognition that our philosophy must be responsive to the times in which we live and that all facets of our program are open to challenge and change.

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