Rainbows and Unicorns

About a week ago, I posted my most popular tweet ever:

This perfect sentence, authored by Alyssa Pereira, amused and delighted me when I read it. Little did I realize how this story of Juliette, the escaped pony “dressed” as a unicorn would garner so much attention. I suspect this may reflect the season we’re in. At the end of a winter, still in the early stages of a seemingly endless U.S. presidential campaign, and in a time when the media is constantly reporting on war and gun violence, a cute story about a stealthy and elusive unicorn provides much needed relief.

While in common parlance, the phrase “rainbows and unicorns” typically carries negative connotations, it might also refer to an attitude of idealistic optimism. I prefer to think of rainbows and unicorns, when I do think of them, as symbols of hope that things can get better, and perhaps will.

In the non-profit world in which I spend my days, a good dose of optimism is essential. Funding is always uncertain, keeping staff is a challenge and there’s little cushion for the unexpected. These circumstances will ring familiar to anyone who has served on non-profit board, as a volunteer or as a staff member in the sector. It’s easy to get dragged down by the daily realities, not to mention the workloads that rarely decline. I cope by trying to keep an eye out, at all times, for the rainbows and unicorns.

My unicorn vision for the organization I work for is that it won’t exist at all. Let me explain: Legal Help Centre came into existence to try to fill at least a few gaps in access to justice for lower income individuals in Winnipeg. If those gaps in access to justice were to suddenly disappear (look, a unicorn!), we’d have no reason to continue to deliver services. The result — my colleagues and I would be out of jobs and our law student interns and volunteers would need to find other places to practice and hone their skills. The unicorn, you see, has a sharp and pointy horn. Its appearance, though wonderful, carries with it the possibility someone will get hurt.

It’s easy to get caught up in the service delivery aspect of a non-profit organization and to start to think that it must continue to deliver those services and employ the staff to do so. Maybe that is the reality in some organizations, but in the case of those filling gaps in access to justice, wouldn’t it be much better if the systemic changes required were implemented in such a way as to significantly reduce or even eliminate the need for any gap-filling?

Maybe this is just me chasing rainbows, but I can’t help but hope that someday the unicorn will appear in access to justice and I’ll be out of a job.


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