Last week, the linked article appeared in the University Times. I saw it early morning and was really pleased with it, although I didn’t think the headline was ideal. My thought was that, if I had written the piece that wouldn’t have been my choice for headline. But the story caused a flurry of action, all now understandable, that I think helps illustrate the complexity of the overall situation. More on that, in the second part of this post. I want to lay out some groundwork that I think is really useful information. I hope you agree, and if you do not, please leave a comment and let’s talk about it. For what it is worth, I began this post the day the story was published, and have worked on it almost daily since. I wished I had published this faster, but it is what it is.
From my perspective, At least four different levels or elements at play and one of the reasons why different people have such different takes on the Pitt Trans Policy issue grows out of assumptions about these four things.
For example, I have been criticized for not being more vocal in condemning the position, expressed in The General Counsel’s opinion, that the birth certificate is the determination factor for sex and the use of restrooms. Yes,I personally find this position horrific, unfair, and in my own opinion, contrary to Pitt’s stated nondiscrimination policy. However, I understand how this opinion came into being, and it is the product of a process. Some are angry at the Pitt administration and believe this represents an ideological statement, and the word, trans-phobic gets tossed out there. If I felt this position had come into being because individuals had applied their own personal ideological standards, I’d be utterly outraged. But I believe everyone involved, is operating from the ideological place that all students, staff, and faculty deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, therefor, the solution is to stay calm and use process to fix the problem. Does this make sense to you? Because I think a bad position resulted from a process, I can remain calm and seek a solution to that by using other processes that are in place. Process problems can often be easily cleared by getting everyone to recognize how the outcome didn’t really meet the needs of either the organization or the persons affected. Since all involved want the same thing in the end, process problems can get fixed.
Some people call process problems communication problems, and often that is the case. A breakdown in communication results in a bad outcome that impacts the rights of some. But I think process problems can be more than communication issues.
This is not the case with ideological problems. In these situations, people on different sides of an issue, do not want the same thing in the end, or even if they claim to, they have extremely different ways to try and accomplish that goal. Ideological differences are not solved by using an existing process and getting folks to recognize how the problem was created. Sometimes ideological issues become solved by focusing on the people impacted, rather than the issue at hand. For example, many folks who have been opposed to same-sex marriage come around and end up supportive, when they stop seeing it as an issue, and begin to see the real people, women and men who, as couples are disadvantaged and harmed by the inability of their relationships to have legal recognition.
For some, it doesn’t matter what type of problem it is, process or ideology. The issue is what the issue is, and that is all that matters. In relation to the Pitt situation, this is best demonstrated by those who say that the current University position is discriminatory. Period. That is as far as they go, and they are not (or may not be) wrong, but in the bigger scheme of things, focusing only there, doesn’t help bring the problem to resolution. Identifying the issue and vocalizing the issue is helpful, but other things past that are needed to resolve the problem.
People, play the pivotal role in how easily or difficult it is to solve a problem regardless of the type of problem that it is, or what issue may be at the root of it. People, sometimes even with the best of intentions get things messed up, or act in ways that are not really in their own best interest or the interest of others. And “people,” I also mean to imply groups of people like committees, et al, in addition to individuals. And as soon as people are involved, and they always are, all of the dimensions of human interaction dynamics come not play. Fear, trust, insecurity, rigid thinking, confusion, poor communication, need to win, need to please, the list is very long, and all of these things can begin to play a role and collide with whatever everyone else is bringing to it as well.
Often, the solution reached as well as the speed at which it is reached isn’t really about the issue at all, but rather, it is all about how well these human dynamics have been navigated. In my experience, the folks who get hung up on the issue, and never get past it to working on a solution, are usually the folks in denial about the dynamics that they bring to the situation, and the real problem solvers are the folks who both grasp the importance of the issue, and also know that the solution is all about navigating the dynamics that keep all the people involved grouped into opposing sides.