Today marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic; the luxury ship that hit an iceberg shortly before midnight on 14th April 1912. By 2.20am (ship’s time) on 15th April she was gone. As our Titanic season continues, on the anniversary of that evening of disaster, published to mark the time that she sank, we reflect on some of the lessons we’ve learnt during our four days in Belfast, and ask what are the lessons Titanic could teach us today…
10 lessons from a sinking ship
The Titanic was a famous ship that became infamous through bad decisions, lack of safety and a random iceberg that just happened to be in the way. Back in 1912 she was, for a time, the largest man made moving object on earth. Unsinkable, or so people said. Over the years news footage has mixed with myth, and Titanic has come to symbolise ‘great disasters.’ Titanic may be an ‘old story’ but she still has lessons to teach about life, the universe and everything, as we discovered during our twin city Titanic tour…
1. Your greatest achievement may turn out to be a disaster
Back in 1912 when Titanic left Belfast for her sea trials, she was said to be bigger, better and bolder than anything on the planet, the ultimate in luxury cruising, and almost unsinkable. Yet within weeks this great achievement became a great disaster. Once she hit that iceberg it really didn’t matter how fast she could go, how elegant she was, how much she cost, she was never going to escape her fate. Although if she’d had a few more or a few bigger lifeboats the human cost may have been less.
2. Tragedy & disaster may in time fuel great achievement
100 years after the tragedy of the Titanic, Belfast has turned what may at one time have been an embarrassing association with the berg struck ship into a dynamic regeneration project, the centre-piece of a strategy for attracting more tourists to the city and an exciting commemorative festival. Visitor numbers are said to be up by 20%. A £90m museum is the jewel in the crown of the huge Titanic Quarter redevelopment scheme. And even the local cafes and bars are cashing in on the Titanic wave of affection, painting ship murals on the walls and naming themselves after the disaster. Anyone want a night out at the Thai Tanic? Or fancy a cup of Tea Tanic? Go to Belfast!
3. There may be icebergs ahead
There’s something in that song ‘There may be trouble ahead’ although when it comes to Titanic while it seems there was music on deck, there was apparently no moonlight, which of course contributed to the difficulties in seeing the trouble. But this is not a call to pessimism, rather to realism, or as the song puts it ‘to face the music and dance’. Whether you think of yourself as an individual passenger, as a member of a particular class or community or as part of society in general, you can be sure there are bergs ahead. You may already sense them, perhaps you’ve already been warned about them (Titanic had 6 ice warnings), but unless you watch out for them, take notice and take appropriate action in good time, you could be doomed. Have you got a good lookout or are you fast asleep in steerage?
4. Control is an illusion
Perhaps some situations demand graceful acceptance of fate rather than futile attempts at controlling what is beyond our influence. If you ended up on the deck of the Titanic was there much you could do to control your fate? Or was it already determined by the number of lifeboats, the prevailing weather, the capabilities of captain and crew, the vagaries of wireless telegraphy, the proximity of other ships, the class of your ticket, the temperature of the sea. Some of the most moving stories are of those who accepted their fate and acted in those critical hours with grace and dignity controlling the only thing they could, their personal behaviour.
5. Live life to the full
No one who boarded the Titanic could even begin to contemplate what lay ahead, although some books had been published years before that foretold of just such a disaster. But to most, she was the ‘unsinkable ship,’ offering new life to all who sailed on her. But our life is not for us to give or take away. 100 years on, we are no closer to being able to predict how and when it will all end than they were back then. So make every minute count.
6. Make every LAST minute count
It’s hard to tell how you will behave under conditions of extreme stress, but your last minutes could be your defining moments. Don’t waste them on thoughtless, thankless, selfish acts. Those who cheated and lied their way onto the life boats came to regret it later. And history still judges them. They paid for their cowardice with their name and reputation.
7. It pays to be upwardly mobile
Here’s a striking lesson the kids pointed out to me, that while money can’t buy you your life, your class and position may help you save it. On the Titanic that fateful night, those in first class were first in the queue for life boats. In terms of percentages many more first class passengers survived than those in third class. Isn’t that just the way of the world? Although when the lifeboats are gone and the ship goes under I’m sure all those coins in your pocket must weigh you down. Perhaps I should be encouraging my kids to be more upwardly mobile, or maybe even pursue it myself, but I think we’ll go for cards and notes, not coins.
8. Shout loudly and maybe the world will listen
Belfast’s recent play The Wireless Room showed how critical the Titanic’s wireless operators were in saving lives by calling for help. Without their relentless tapping, sending CQD (Come Quickly Disaster) and SOS messages to alert nearby shipping to their predicament and position, perhaps no-one would have survived that icy night. They had a job to do, to call for help, and they did it clearly, concisely, persistently, professionally, until they could do it no more, when the water entered the wireless room. There’s a lesson for us all there about asking for help when we need it, of the right people, in the right way, on the right channel.
9. If in doubt, blame someone else
It’s hard when things go wrong. Hard to figure out what happened and why, how best to avoid it happening again, what or who’s to blame. Apparently after the disaster, and once the inquiries and mourning was over little was spoken of Titanic in Belfast. These days, ‘She was alright when she left here!‘ is the motto amongst Belfast locals who say it with a wink and a grin. They’re so charming, you can’t really argue.
10. Nothing lasts for ever except a good old Irish story
Even as I sit writing this the bacteria Halomonas titanicae is eating away at the wreck of the Titanic on the seabed of the North Atlantic. This recently discovered bacteria eats rust and apparently scientists predict that within 20 years or so it will consume the wreck of the Titanic until the physical remains of the ship exist no more. With all that’s going on in Belfast, there can’t be many people left on earth now who don’t know that the Titanic launched and sank 100 years ago. Or that it was built in Belfast. And no matter what happens to the wreck, as we leave Belfast I get the distinct impression the people here will make sure the story lives on.
This post is part of our Tales of Titanic Cities Tour.
We’ visited Liverpool and Belfast to find out more about how the two cities are connected to Titanic, joined in the Titanic Festival and tried to figure out what the story of the Titanic has to teach us one hundred years on.
Read these other posts from our Titanic Season.
- We’re more a steerage sort of family
- Kids make headlines at the Merseyside Maritime Museum
- She was alright leaving here – World’s only Titanic Boat Tour
- Marking the moment – Tiitanic hits an Iceberg
- Ten lessons from a sinking ship – Titanic sinks – marking the moment
- Inside the Berg – The Titanic Belfast Visitor Attraction
- That’s the problem with the wireless generation
- 10 ideas for family craic in Belfast city break