Sunday, September 11, 2005

Concepts Count 

It sometimes hard to make the connection between ideas and people's lives, but three examples in the past week demonstrate it -- one little and two large. (I am writing this on the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Towers, a wing of the Pentagon and aircrafts filled with passengers, all because of a clash of ideas.)

The Sunday New York Times reported that a difference in understanding between local and state government and FEMA contributed to the delay in getting people out of New Orleans. FEMA saw itself in a support role to local authorities, but local authorities were overwhelmed and couldn't handle the situation. The simple difference between supporting and taking charge caused vast misery. In addition, the article pointed out that when the state went to get busses to evacuate people, local parishes (counties) refused to lend them because of reported violence and the fact that most bus drivers are women. Fear kept them from acting, and busses stayed idle until FEMA stepped in.

The small case is a report of a hangup at PayPal where efforts to collect money for hurricane victims was stopped because PayPal was afraid of frauds. In this case, PayPal was acting responsibly, but it made no difference. It earned a black eye for its intransigence.

It doesn't look to me that anyone in these examples acted in a heinous manner. They acted without information and the courage to change concepts that weren't workable.

There are times to break rules, to change concepts, to look at what is happening and to suggest new ways to proceed. One doesn't always get advance warning of when such times might occur. It requires sensitivity and experience, and even then, it is possible to make large mistakes. Therein lies a choice that faces every one of us at times -- the desire to be right versus the will to act. We can look foolish either way. The question is what is right at this time, and there can be no answer until after one has chosen.


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