Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Point of Reference

Human beings would have very little ability to reason or be reasonable without a point of reference. The Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov even demonstrated that animals can be conditioned to respond in certain ways based on a point of reference. By always ringing a bell prior to feeding his dog, Pavlov was able to condition his dog to start salivating from the time the bell rang in anticipation of being fed. The association between the bell and the food was a point of reference for the dog.

I have been playing golf for almost 40 years. My initial goal in golf was to break 100 because I had read somewhere that serious golfers should break 100. My goal was based on the point of reference of someone else. I didn’t have my own point of reference because I had never played a round of golf before. Breaking 100 turned out to be much more difficult than I had ever imagined, but the more I played, the more I was able to learn about how to manage my game in ways that would reduce my score.

I was eventually able to break 100, so then I set my goal to break 90. After I broke 90, I changed my goal to breaking 80, and that’s where I’ve been stuck for just about as long as I can remember. I want to break 80, I think I can break 80, I plan to someday break 80, but I have no reasonable expectation that I will break 80 anytime soon because my point of reference is 40 years and countless rounds of never playing well enough for 18 holes to break 80. Wanting to break 80 is a reasonable goal, but expecting to break 80 is an unreasonable expectation for me.

Just as I have a history of golf scores, the United States Federal government and all of the private relief agencies have a history of responding to natural disasters. There has always been a lag between the end of the disaster and any type of large scale relief. From what I know, there never has been a natural disaster in the Untied States where the Federal government and the major relief agencies were able to make a significant difference any sooner than 72 hours.

I can understand the emotional desire of most people to want a quicker response from the leaders of our country. Anyone who watched the scope of the disaster on television naturally wanted the victims to be relieved of their suffering quickly. However, the size of the disaster made immediate relief impossible. A quicker response than 72 hours to Katrina would have been like me breaking 80 for the first time on the most difficult course I have ever played.

It is reasonable to want a faster response from our government and relief agencies to Katrina, but it is totally and completely unreasonable to expect a faster response because we have history as a point of reference. From my perspective, the United States Federal government and relief agencies just broke 85 at Pebble Beach. Maybe not the best ever, but pretty darn close.

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