Monday, August 26, 2013

Four Lessons From the TITANIC That Can Prepare You to Face Any Disaster in Life

It was just before noon on April 10th, 1912 as the RMS Titanic sailed from its dock in Southampton. The crew and passengers aboard were excited about making the historic voyage across the North Atlantic Ocean from England to America. However, no-one could have imagined that the ship that "God himself could not sink", would end in such a disaster. In recent years the Titanic has captured the imagination of many people as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet brought the story to life in the award winning Hollywood blockbuster. While working through life's difficult situations we can draw inspiration from many different stories throughout the pages of history. In this article we will explore one of the world's best known shipping disasters, the story of the RMS TITANIC.

The story of the Titanic is the sad account of how the biggest ship ever built at the time (883 feet long, 92 feet wide, and 64 feet high from the keel to the upper surface of the weather deck) collided with an iceberg that perforated the hull just below the water line. Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes later the ship sunk below the icy water of the North Atlantic.

Three Big Questions for a Big Ship
As a result of the Titanic sinking, two separate inquiries were launched, one by the British and the other by Americans. The investigators asked three powerful questions, "Why did this disaster happen?", "What can we learn?" and "How can we prevent a similar disaster?"

Why Did the Disaster Happen?
The first question that people usually ask when a disaster strikes is, "Why did it happen?" When this question was asked about the Titanic, the blame was pointed at five different people. The first was Captain E. J. Smith, who ignored several iceberg warnings and did not order the ship to reduce speed. The second was the ship's builder because he had apparently used iron rivets that were not strong enough and did not withstand the impact of the iceberg when it struck. Bruce Ismay the Managing Director of the White Star Line was the third person who was blamed because it was believed that he encouraged Captain Smith to maintain the ships' dangerous speed. Thomas Andrews the ships' architect was also blamed because he had designed the sixteen watertight compartments with insufficient height in the walls. The final blame was pointed toward Captain Stanley Lord who had his ship, the Californian, located near the Titanic, but did not respond to the emergency flares as he decided that the flares were related to celebrations on board the Titanic.

The Negative Power of 'Why'
One of the first reactions that we have when we face a difficult situation is to ask ourselves, "Why am I going through this?" The reason we ask "Why?" is to satisfy the unquenchable need to interpret the meaning behind events that are happening around us. The "why" question is like a two edged sword, it can produce constructive feedback and positive feelings, or it can produce destructive and irrational thoughts that pull you down. If you are in a negative mental state and you ask, "Why is this happening to me?" Possible responses could include:

  • "Because God hates me"

  • "Because I'm a failure"

  • "Because I attract disaster"

  • "Because the whole world is against me"

  • "Because other people don't care about me"

  • "Because I'm useless"

All of the above answers indicate a negative mental state with thoughts that can't be backed up by any hard evidence. These types of thoughts are called irrational thoughts because they defy any form of logic. As a result of this type of thinking, a person will feel depressed, worthless, hopeless, and have no motivation to seek possible solutions. There are other questions worth asking. Questions that can give people a sense of hope, but first let's look at how the 'why' question can be used in a positive way.

The Positive Power of Knowing Why
One of the positive outcomes from asking the "why" question is that it can help us to avoid future disasters. Many successful people such as Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Debbie Reynolds, Larry King, and Donald Trump have experienced negative experiences in their lifetime. Each of these people learned from their experiences and pressed forward to new heights of success. If you are in the middle of a difficult situation the "why" question can be used to learn from any mistakes and move forward.

Two Questions that can fill you with Hope
There are two questions that can help you focus on solutions and move forward. These questions are WHAT and HOW. Here are some examples of how these questions can be used to help you feel more inspired.


  • "What am I grateful for?"

  • "What can I learn from this problem?"

  • "What can I do to turn this situation around?"

  • "What is the next logical step for me?"

  • "What do I do after that?"


  • "How can I manage the next step?"

  • "How can I accelerate the process?"

  • "How can I make the process more enjoyable?"

  • "How could things be different if I took this action?"

  • "How can handle this situation better?"

Asking these questions gives you valuable information to hopefully avoid similar disasters in the future, learn from any mistakes, regain confidence and plan your way forward.

How can a Similar Disaster be Prevented?
After investigators asked "What?" and "How?" they made the following recommendations to the shipping industry. These four recommendations offer some very practical advice and can be used to help us manage the difficult circumstances that we might experience in our own lives.

Sufficient Lifeboats
The first recommendation that investigators made was to have sufficient lifeboats on all ships. The Titanic had approximately 2214 passengers on board but only enough lifeboats for 1,178 people. A sad fact of the disaster is that only 705 passengers and crew survived, as many of the lifeboats were not filled to capacity.

The lesson here is to build support processes into your life. Anything that inspires you and gives you emotional support can be seen as a lifeboat. Having the support of friends, having spiritual guidance, reading inspirational books, listening to music, playing sport, pursuing hobbies, or having an interest in activities such as travelling, are all examples of personal lifeboats.

A common mistake that many people make is to rely on just one lifeboat. The danger is that if anything happens to their one lifeboat, they won't have any emotional support and can easily fall into depression. An example that I recently heard of was a woman named Carla (not her real name). Carla was devoted to playing a particular sport; however she had a bad accident and injured her knee. When Carla was told that the injury would take 6 month's to heal, she burst into tears because it meant that she would not be able to play her beloved sport. Carla had lost the one activity in her life that brought her joy. Similarly a man named Kevin who was devoted to reading, had a severe stroke which left him half blind. Being unable to read he felt depleted of the very activity that he drew strength from. A solution to this problem is to cultivate several sources of enjoyment. If one activity is suddenly removed, you can draw upon the other sources to keep you afloat.

Safety Drills
The second recommendation was that all crew and passengers participate in safety drills. Even though hitting an iceberg was a very real risk during their journey, the crew onboard the Titanic did not have the adequate training to handle an accident of this magnitude. When you are in the middle of a stressful situation your automatic response will be to do what you are most familiar with. You do what is second nature. Safety drills give people the opportunity to experience the same hazardous situations over and over until the right response becomes second nature.

With this in mind, what are some of the activities in your life that need to be second nature? What needs to be a routine part of your life? To answer this question you need to examine all the different aspects of your life. The areas of your life that need to be continually maintained include physical health and fitness, emotional wellbeing, intellectual stimulation, spiritual renewal, and relational support. Examining all these aspects of our lives, here is a list of some things that have become second nature to me:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet

  • Scheduling exercise throughout my week

  • Having a laugh every day

  • Playing Sudoku

  • Taking time out to enjoy a hobby

  • Spending quality time with my wife

  • Enjoying activities with friends

These activities have become second nature to me and have helped me to handle many crisis situations. The key to maintaining a healthy life balance is consistency. Small activities that are performed every daily are the key to staying afloat during the toughest of times.

Ship Radios Need to be Manned Full Time

A third recommendation was that all ship radios be manned 24 hours a day. Passengers onboard the Titanic could have been saved if the radio operator on-board the Californian had been manning the radio and heard the distress calls. Communication is vital to all successful endeavours in life. When America undertook military intervention in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the first thing that the army targeted was the communication networks. This shows the importance that communication plays.

The lesson we can learn here is to stay in contact with other people. When a crisis comes your way, who can you call for advice? Here are a few tips to maintain healthy communication channels and develop friendships:

  • Develop friendships around interests such as sports or hobbies.

  • Remember important dates such as anniversaries and birthdays.

  • Learn to listen to people without interrupting them.

  • Use eye contact when you are with people.

  • Schedule regular meetings with your closest friends.

  • Have your friends call you regularly during times you are experiencing pressure.

  • Say sorry to those you have wronged.

  • Speak encouraging words to everyone you come into contact with.

  • Enlist the help of a counsellor, life coach or other support person.

Here are some quotes that illustrate the importance of relationships:

"My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me."

- Henry Ford

"What makes loneliness an anguish is not that I have no one to share my burden, but this: I have only my own burden to bear."

- Dag Hammarskjold

"A friend is one who walks in when others walk out"

-Walter Winchell

"The better part of one's life consists of his friendships."

- Abraham Lincoln

Maintain open and honest communication with key people in your life so they can support you during times of need. The worst thing you can do is to smile and pretend everything is OK. A fake impression won't help you. Stay honest with the key people in your life and don't feel too proud to send out a distress call.

Reduce Speed in Icy or Foggy Conditions

One of the first things that the investigation uncovered was that speed played a major part in the disaster. Collision with the iceberg could have been avoided if the RMS Titanic had been travelling at a much slower speed. Hence, the last recommendation from the inquiry was that ships should use a much slower speed while travelling in icy or foggy conditions.

Foggy conditions can be seen as symbolic of times in our life that we are not thinking clearly. When you are overwhelmed by events that are happening around you it is unwise to make rash decisions because the high levels of stress limit your thinking processes. The lesson here is to allow yourself time to process important decisions while you are in the middle of a crisis. Seek out friends for advice before taking any major action.

As we have seen there are many things we can do to help manage difficult situations. We have discussed the power of asking the right sort of questions, with 'what?' and 'how?' being the most effective. We then looked at four lessons to help us through difficult times. These included:

  • Having a variety of things in place to provide emotional support

  • Implementing routines to maintain a healthy life balance

  • Having healthy relationships and open communication and....

  • Taking time to make important decisions during crisis times

P.S. The Worst Thing You Can Do in the Middle of a Disaster
There is one last lesson that we can learn from the Titanic disaster, "Denying the reality of a crisis won't keep your ship afloat". A mindset of denial such as, "Everything is OK, this ship is unsinkable", won't make the situation any better. Denial creates a blind spot that can lead a person right into disaster. The problem gambler says, "I'm OK, I'll win it all back, I just need to take one more risk, this time is the big one". Then he finds himself kicked out on the street with a broken marriage, bankrupt, with no sense of hope for the future. This is the result of a blind spot that he had created by denying the fact that he had a problem with gambling. If the crew of the Titanic had taken responsibility to evacuate the passengers in a quick and orderly manner, instead of acting in denial, many more people could have been saved from an icy death.

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