“Every man beholds his human condition with a degree of melancholy. As a ship aground is battered by the waves, so man, imprisoned in mortal life, lies open to the mercy of coming events.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Oh it’s just a power outage,” many of the passengers were told by the cruise ship Costa Concordia crew members on Friday, January 13th. “Just go back to your rooms–it should be sorted out shortly,” some of the other passengers said to each other after the bows of the cruise ship went dark. Some listened and headed for their rooms. Some knew better and prepared for an unknown impending disaster.

What they couldn’t see is that the ship had run aground. With the cruise liner quickly leaning, the dark halls would become vertical traps for the passengers who would grasp at walls for their dear lives. Most of the passengers were able to survive the shipwreck, but 13 people are confirmed dead and 19 people are still missing.

It was supposed to be a pleasant evening filled with food and dancing, but as guests began their three-course meals, wine glasses and dinner plates came crashing down, and the lights went out [1]. One passenger left to see what happened, but she was quickly told that it was just an electrical problem. The next chain of events many passengers compare to what happened in the movie, Titanic. Like the RMS Titanic, the Costa Concordia was one of the most expensive, large, and luxurious cruise ships ever made. The incidences were eerily similar;  the passengers were not warned, they were told to go about their business and were given no concrete evacuation plan. The only difference was the location–the Titanic hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; Concordia ran aground right by Giglio, Italy for all to see.

The 4,200 passengers on the Italian craft were left clamoring for life jackets, staggering into lifeboats, or jumping into the frigid water and swimming to shore. Cries rang out from the packed hallways where many waited to either be rescued or drown in the pitch-black sea [2].Witnesses say that women and children were pushed aside as the crewmen either refused to lower the lifeboats for their safety, or lowered the boat only to climb into it themselves. Men knocked over older ladies to get the last slot on the lifeboats. Even the ship’s own Captain Francesco Schettino now faces possible charges of manslaughter, shipwreck and abandoning ship for allegedly leaving the boat before securing the safety of all passengers.

In contrast, on the Titanic, more women than men survived, more third class female passengers survived than first class males, and women and children were ushered onto the lifeboats first; up to 90 percent of first and second class females survived the perilous night. [3] When all hope was lost, the Titanic’s Captain Edward Smith encouraged men who were headed to their demise that “they have done all they could.” [3] He assured them their sacrifices were not in vain. Yet on the Costa Concordia, this leader and some of his men made some questionable decisions.

This past year we dealt with coaches, politicians, pastors, and athletes who let us down. We saw them run for the exit as the impending disaster fell upon their heads. Instead of coming clean with the truth, they struggled to come up with lies and more lies. What happened near Italy was a harrowing example of, sadly, what most of our society has been broken down to. Leaders who chose a position to uphold the well-being of others, but then surrender under the pressure, lacking the character to stand firm or make the right decision.

Though there are stories of heroes and acts of sacrifice, many of them are overshadowed by the raw evolutionary pull of human selfishness. However, instead of pointing fingers at others, we must take a look at ourselves. In many ways, we have gone from a “WE” society to a “ME” society. Sometimes it takes a disaster like a sinking cruise liner to make us realize who we really are, and what is really happening around us–breakdowns of human ethics; violent strains of “every man for himself.”

One man’s character in particular stood out on the Costa Concordia. British teenager, James Thomas turned himself into a human ladder, allowing many to climb to safety in lifeboats. For most, though, sacrifice was avoided. What we must realize is that our ship of society is sinking. The low moral values, lack of strong parenting, children growing up without fathers, and our dependence on the government to change society–is causing us to further sink into the deep, dark ocean. But there is hope…

If anything, maybe these are two of the many lessons we can learn from this disaster: 1. Be prepared for disaster and do not stand idly by when it comes upon you. 2. Look inward and decide: am I a James Thomas? Or am I only out for my own wellbeing? 

 

Resources:

1. ABC News

2. National Post

3. National Review

Photo Credit: Laura Lezza/Getty Images, ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images, REUTERS/ Max Rossi, arts-wallpapers.com