Thursday, April 29, 2010

Betty's Plea

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. - Henry Kissinger

I'll grant you, it was an awkward moment. In a tiny office, no bigger than a typical guest bedroom, two committees were meeting to discuss detailed remodeling plans. The Art and Architecture Committee was certain that any changes to the historic structure were within their purview.

The Trustees were gathered at the other "end" of the room. They were charged with the maintenance and upkeep of the facility, as well as the financial oversight of the organization. If money was to be spent upgrading an office, it would be at their behest.

The two groups were each tightly circled around their respective drawings of the office. Like strange bedfellows or kids in the back seat guarding their side of "the line", they were self-consciously avoiding any contact, eye or otherwise.

And in between the two groups was a rather frantic Betty, wringing her hands and intoning, again and again, "Someone needs to mediate!"

Alas, mediation is only effective when people or groups are as committed to finding a workable solution as they are to vanquishing the enemy. We've learned that lesson, again and again, from Israel/Palestine, Russia/Chechnya, England/Ireland, Shiite/Sunni, Hutu/Tutsi, Republican/Democrat, Red State/Blue State, and all varieties of NIMBY's. Groups are assembled, each seeking their exclusive victory, while well-meaning Betty's circles betwixt and between, pleading for peace.

"Can't we all just get along?"

I guess not, though we can pass concealed carry laws to allow the members of these groups to arm themselves, you know, just in case. But we'll provide no public option for health insurance for the wounded. Apparently both stupidity and the predilection to violence are pre-existing conditions.

In retrospect it's good that the groups in the church office that day weren't armed. Betty's plea went unanswered. Instead it was the Golden Rule that prevailed: Them that has the gold makes the rules. The Trustees had the budget on their side, a fact which trumped the aesthetics of the opposition. And the office? When all was said and done it was, indeed, small.

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