One of the first things I learned in ministry is that surprised people react poorly. A corollary to this is that people who feel left out of the process also react poorly. Combine the two, surprised people who feel left out of the process, and you get the recent burst of energy around the new UUA logo.
A little background: On Thursday, the UUA announced and unveiled a new logo as the first step of what seems to be a multistep process to update our image. You can read about it in this UU World article. Needless to say, the blogosphere and social media exploded with critique.
I want to take a number of steps back, one at a time, in order to better understand the critique. I am not going to get into the value or design of the new logo – I want to look at process.
0 Steps back: This was a surprise. Most of my clergy colleagues had no idea this was underway. In addition, the announcement indicates more changes are ahead but, other than an upgrade to the website, does not indicate what those changes may be, or even what the nature of those changes may be. Surprised people who felt left out of the process reacted poorly.
1 Step back: This is the second surprise in two weeks. Just 10 days earlier, the UU World reported on the UUA Trustees meeting where the UUA Administration urged a change in how we think of the role of the Association, moving toward being a “religious movement focused on cultural transformation.” Unfortunately, it sounded as though congregations were being left behind in this transformation, and this made many people very upset.
2 Steps back: Many of us are mourning the loss of the historical Beacon Street location as we move to a new building. Even as we understand the reasoning, we grieve. Change is hard, as it requires losing something. It can be hard to focus on what we might gain. From here, the level of anxiety in the UU system is already high due to the nature of this identity change.
3 Steps back: Increasing the anxiety in the system is the awareness that the President and previous Moderator had such conflict within the last few years that the UUA Board brought in a paid mediator.
A view from the balcony: Combine the anxiety in the system with our love/hate relationship with authority (whether it be in the form of a minister or in the form of “the UUA”) recently highlighted in the Commission on Appraisal report “Who’s in Charge Here?” and one could probably predict this reaction.
Towards a 2-part solution: Trust is a 2-way street. I encourage those of us on the sidelines to recognize our own reactivity, our own distrust of authority, and remember that we are the UUA. The people we tend to point fingers at care very, very deeply about our faith tradition and are hard at work trying to ensure our future. We do a thorough job of holding them accountable, but can we practice occasionally cutting them some slack? Apparently, this new logo wasn’t a whim and wasn’t created out of thin air, but has been a year-long process of dialogue with 50 different UU stakeholders (according to the recent VUU episode available here, particularly at 30:49).
And, for the UUA Administration, it would be much easier to cut some slack if we had confidence in where we are going. I am reminded of a GPS I use which won’t ever give me the whole map of where I am going, but only shares one turn at a time. I hate it because I never really know if it is directing me to my desired destination. Give me the whole map at once (rather than just pieces at a time) and then I will be more likely to trust each individual turn. I want the same from my UUA Administration. You seem to have been working from a plan – please share it in more detail. If it concerns the future direction of our Association, publish it beyond the Board. The recent Presidents report to the Board mentioned this change in “branding” but if someone isn’t on the Board, or isn’t a geek that goes to read the Board reports and minutes, s/he would not have known this turn was coming up. All of the info I have read about the new logo focuses on how we engaged consultants to come up with this logo, but what matters to me is that UU stakeholders were involved. Trust us enough to give us information that will better enable us to trust you.
The anxiety in our UU system is quite high right now. Just as surprised people who feel left out of the process tend to react poorly, so also is the inverse true: Informed people who are brought along in the process tend to be more invested in the outcome.