Sinking the Unsinkable

This month marks the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Imagine for a moment, the excitement, the pride in the engineering genius that must have surrounded its launch. Imagine the luxury, the confidence, the power… and the result. One-hundred years later, we can reflect on the loss of this massive and transformative ship – and see how it relates to more in our lives than just a piece of history.

Pride Comes before a Fall 

Pride is an interesting word, almost a double-edged sword is some ways. For some, being proud about your accomplishments or self is a good thing; however, more often we are taught that being proud is being self-absorbed and self-righteous, characteristics that in some cultures are seen as extremely negative traits, deserving of a downfall or ruin in the end. So let me define the word in my terms – pride, to me is feeling good about _________ (oneself, a job well-done etc.). It’s more about being self-possessed than self-absorbed. The former seems to indicate that a person feels comfortable within the self so they can look outward, while the latter seems to point towards a more narcissistic self-fawning that precludes others and other views. It’s in this way that I believe the Titanic fell – that its owners and technical higher-ups were so self-absorbed that they could not, would not believe that there were weak points in their ‘perfect’ ship. Sometimes it is with us as well – we become so convinced that our way is the one and only way, and comments or suggestions fall on deaf ears. Sometimes there’s an iceberg in our path and sometimes there isn’t…

Lacking Safety Valves

Looking over the dozens (or hundreds) of critiques of ‘how the Titanic might have been saved’, there are many stories, some of which may be purely anecdotal, some of them might have been true.  There were four funnels that could have released steam from the boilers – only three of them were functional, one was for aesthetics only. There weren’t any watertight spaces on board that might have buffered an accident – if the ship was ‘unsinkable’, then I guess they thought they were unnecessary… or would they have made it truly unsinkable? Do you have any watertight spaces in your life? A few extra resources, a bit of time to yourself for example, when things go awry – giving yourself a little bit of margin in a busy schedule may help to float more easily. Another aesthetic/safety issue with the Titanic was the lack of life boats (they didn’t want to concern anyone about any possible problems) and the absence of an emergency evacuation run-through – so not only were there not enough places for people to safely get off the ship, but the process of escape was unknown to those on board. What or who are your lifeboats – are there enough for you in a dire situation? While hypnosis tends to focus the mind on what we want, rather than what we don’t want, sometimes a moment of ‘negative thinking’ can place us in problem solving mode (our own mental evacuation practice) – and having run through a successful shift from problem to solution in our mind, we have a better capacity to react and support ourselves in the event of a real crisis.

Faulty Communication

Wireless communication, which the Titanic had, could have saved the ship, according to some sources. However, there were a few small issues that got in the way of her sending her message successfully to others. The wireless was used for the communication of the ship as well as was used by passengers for their messages to shore. Because wireless, in that day, wasn’t like our personal phones but was rather a shared or ‘party’ line that others could hear (not unlike some one-sided conversations you hear when people are talking loudly on their handsets). So imagine an endless babble of ‘dots and dashes’ coming from the ship, mostly regarding the important/mundane daily exchanges from a large number of people on the ship. And because the operators of the wireless were so busy sending these messages out, a simple message in warning that there was ice in the area (sent by the nearby Californian) was met with a curt “shut up” from the Titanic’s side (which annoyed the communications expert on the ship, who shut off his machine and went to bed – thus excluding the nearest ship from providing help after the sinking).

With that background, how does it relate to the mind? Do we have endless ‘white noise’ of urgent messages coming to us – that we have to act on or deal with now, now, now? We see people sending texts while talking (or driving), people talking to a third party while dining with someone else, or interrupting work with acknowledgements to a constant stream of emails? I’m not saying that many of them aren’t important, or seemingly important – yet if everything is important, what isn’t? Maybe it isn’t a matter of importance, but of urgency – and it takes a bit of energy and a lot of conviction to really ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’, and only deal with the things that are vital and important to your best life. A change that was made after the sinking of the Titanic was there was a special indicator and channel for emergency communication – wouldn’t it be nice to have one of those so we’d know the difference between a real and perceived emergency? While we might not have the facility yet, practice in asking whether an action is important or not can help us to better divine the difference in the future.

Counterintuitive Options

Interestingly I found two options, in hindsight, that would have been opposite to normal reactions but might have saved lives, if not the ship. One was ramming the iceberg head-on, rather than steering to starboard, which would have been ‘very disruptive’ to passengers on board, but because of the stronger bow, might have saved the ship. How does this translate for us? How many times to we aim to avoid something – a confrontation, deadline, reality – and in our shifting from dealing with it, we seem to get ‘sunk’ anyway? While a head-on may be uncomfortable in the present, sometimes it can save us in the end. The other suggestion was to counter-flood the aft end of the ship – which would have slowed the sinking by 4.5 hours. What a lifetime that would have given many people on-board. Similarly, sometimes we need to ‘deep 6’ (or scuttle) aspects of our lives to save others. Maybe not getting the extra promotion means you have a lifetime connection with your children, maybe cutting out a toxic relationship may give you space to find supportive ones… maybe it’s time to look at areas that by letting them go, keeps us afloat.

What was lost?

Of course, many lives were lost. Individuals and families of all walks of life, especially those in the ‘lower classes’. Of course there were also material possessions that sank to the bottom of the ocean that are now being explored. So we lost people and things in the sinking of the Titanic. Yet, like many of us experience in our lives at some point, there was another thing lost – a concept. When the Titanic sank, so did the dream of an ‘unsinkable’ luxury cruiser. Maybe it was healthy to expose the folly of imperfection – but it makes it no less painful. How many of us get to stages of our lives and realize that certain concepts or dreams have sunk? That we aren’t who we imagined we would be at 30, 40, 50 years old? What do we do with our direction and future when our reality is so different from what we’ve imagined? Like the losses of the Titanic, there are things we can’t replace and must mourn their loss to move on. Yet dreams and concepts are slippery, tricky things – and can change if we allow them to. Once we realize that we haven’t achieved a goal or lifestyle that we fantasized about (maybe when we were young) it may be time to start a new reverie, and new goal – that challenges us to reach further while still appreciating how far we’ve come already.

What was found?

The sinking of the Titanic changed much in the maritime world. While it was a sad event in history, there were positive outcomes – lessons that were learned and not repeated. As I mentioned earlier, an emergency channel was allocated for communications. Requirements in safety equipment were tightened. Unlike many ships that sank leaving no survivors or stories, the Titanic’s structural issues could be reassessed and refined for future. A recent cruise liner sinking (which was much larger than the Titanic) lost only 6 lives (still a loss) compared to over 1500 in the Titanic, and while many criticize that not much has changed in the century that followed the sinking of the great Titanic, much has. While a faultless life would seemingly be an easy life, how many lessons have you learned from your mistakes? What strengths have you discovered in challenges? In times of crisis, have you had the opportunity to differentiate what was important from what wasn’t? In times of loss, what have you found? Looking at it that way, our own personal “Titanics” can be allow us to be rescued and wiser for them.

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