pril 15, 2012, is a memorable date for another reason than paying taxes in the United States. One hundred years ago the R.M.S. Titanic
, believed to be unsinkable, sank! Shortly after midnight on that fateful Sunday in 1912, 1,517 people lost their lives in the dark, icy waters of the North Atlantic. Fewer than half—only 711 of the 2,228 passengers—survived.
The captain, Edward J. Smith, had planned to retire after navigating the Titanic
across the Atlantic on its maiden voyage. While the upper decks had the luxuries of a five-star hotel, lower-class passengers and immigrants survived the four days of the journey in cramped, crowded quarters.
On its ill-fated voyage the Titanic
actually hit the iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14. It disappeared into the ocean just more than two and a half hours later.
Ironically, the Titanic
had been touted as the grandest, safest vessel ever built. It wasn’t. It was the most notable disaster in oceanic history, and one of the most preventable.
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons we’re fascinated with the Titanic
is that it continues to be a commentary simultaneously about human pride and human vulnerability. The story of the Titanic teaches us that we are all seriously sinkable and ultimately dependent on factors outside ourselves.
Here are five lessons that emerge from the wreck of the Titanic
1. Delete Pride
: In Greek mythology the Titans were characterized by their hubris—pride. Ironically, the same charge can be leveled against the builders of the Titanic
. Adopting the name Titans, they arrogantly imagined they could construct an ocean liner that was unsinkable, indestructible.
2. Expect Challenges
: We may desire fair weather, but we should always be prepared for storms. Driven by construction deadlines and rising costs, the officers of Titanic
foolishly took shortcuts on safety tests and procedures. They had fewer than half the lifeboats needed for the number of passengers on board, and no onboard lifeboat drill had been conducted. The one drill scheduled—ironically, on the day of the accident—was canceled by Captain Smith. Scores of passengers could have been saved if there had been ordered, well-understood procedures in place when danger was realized.
3. Be Cautious
: The Titanic
crew touted safety as a creed. Yet in spite of receiving repeated warnings of icebergs in the vicinity, they dangerously traveled at full throttle (22.5 of the 23-knot maximum speed), seeking to set a record for a trans-Atlantic crossing. Further, the ship’s rudder was at least 30 percent too small for a vessel its size. When the iceberg was sighted, the ship could not steer quickly enough to avoid it.
4. Leaders Lead
: Leaders are responsible for the outcome of the organization they lead. The Titanic
’s officers acted irresponsibly. There were numerous discernible indicators of danger along the way. On the day of the collision seven ice warnings were received by the pilots of the Titanic.
This neglect proved critical because of the nature of the iceberg with which the Titanic
collided. The clear, mirrorlike appearance of this “blackberg” was similar to the black ice found on icy roads. And with only one tenth of its mass above the surface of the water, it was hard to see and impossible to budge.
5. Help Others
: Multiple lives could have been saved if officers both on and off the Titanic
had thought of others rather than themselves. The blunders of the two captains of Titanic
, both of the White Star Line, resulted in needless deaths. The Californian
ocean liner was only six miles away. It could have provided immediate assistance. Titanic
’s telegraph operator sent an urgent plea for help over the wireless, which the Californian
’s captain Stanley Lord disregarded. The Titanic
’s emergency flares were assumed unimportant by the captain, and the Californian
quietly sailed away from the scene of disaster. Fortunately, Captain Arthur Rostron of the Cunard Line’s Carpathia
responded to the Titanic
’s SOS calls, or the disaster would have been even worse.
One hundred years have passed, but the Titanic
still speaks. Have we learned its lessons? Two salient principles emerge: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). And: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Delbert W. Baker is a general vice president of the General Conference. This article was published April 26, 2012.