Did Reckless Living Sink the Titanic?


When I was in middle school I was fascinated by shipwrecks. For some reason there tends to be a latent morbid curiosity within most human beings that draws us to stories of the macabre. We run from the idea of death but are also intrigued by it. Shipwrecks are spooky and romantic and tragic all in one package.

I remember going to a book sale one day and coming home with two coffee table size books on the subject. Both were filled with pictures and stories of the doomed ships, and tales of how they met their fate. I still have both books somewhere.

One was a general book on shipwrecks from the 20th century. It told the stories of chips like the Andrea Doria, the Empress of Ireland, and the General Slocum.

The other book focused on what is arguably the most famous shipwreck of all times: RMS Titanic.

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. There were TV specials and commemorative ceremonies. One company offered a memorial cruise that replicated the voyage of the Titanic, stopping over the wreck site for memorials at the exact time of the ships tragic encounter with an iceberg and subsequent plunge to the depths of the North Atlantic two hours later.

As someone who is intrigued by the Titanic I have watched several of the shows and read articles and pondered myself the events that took place 100 years ago. I’ve had several thoughts and so this will the first of two posts here at Reckless Living that focus on the Titanic disaster.

The first is this: Did Reckless Living sink the Titanic?

Twice during the coverage of the Titanic anniversary I heard Captain Smith called Reckless. And so I began to ponder, did Reckless Living sing the Titanic?

Captain Edward Smith

Captain Edward Smith was the man in charge of the Titanic during her first and only voyage. He had worked for the White Star Line for over 30 years and had been a Captain for 25 of them. Less than a year previous to the sinking of the Titanic he had successfully piloted her sister ship, the Olympic, on the exact same voyage. He knew his stuff and he knew his ship.

The day of her sinking, the Titanic received 5 messages about ice from other ships, only two of which made their way to the ship’s Captain. The most serious of them was received at 9:40 that evening, but he never saw it. Two hours later the ship struck the iceberg and 5 hours later the Titanic was on the bottom of the ocean.

Captain Smith had been hoping to set a new speed record with the maiden voyage of the magnificent ship. He made the decision not to slow down and endanger his record setting run. It was a decision that cost him and 1,516 other people their lives.

Yesterday at Rivetree we spent some time exploring the difference between being Reckless, being Foolish, and being Careless.

If you have spent time on this blog or have read Completely Reckless or have spent any time at Rivertree you know that we define Reckless as acting without care for the consequences.

This is in contrast to Foolish which is acting without thought of the consequences. You Tube is filled with examples of people acting foolishly and getting hurt: Skateboarders so focused on hitting the next trick that they break their arms on an unseen obstacle, dirt bike racers who don’t realize how high the jump is until they are in the air. Without foolish people You Tube would be a very boring place.

There is a third category, and this is of carelessness. Careless is acting without preparation for the consequences.

Reckless does not mean careless.

I believe Carelessness sank the Titanic.

Captain Smith knew full well the potential consequences of his actions. So he was not, by our definition foolish.

Reckless actions are when we understand that there may be negative consequences and we accept those negative consequences as a possibility. I don’t think that Captain Smith did this either.

He had been at sea long enough to know the potential hazards. But here’s the thing, he had been at sea so long that he had dismissed the potential hazards as so remote as to be inconsequential.

In other words, he had gotten cocky. In fact, he once said this:

I will say that I cannot imagine any condition which could cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.

Apparently he was wrong. And it was an error that cost him and many others their lives.
Being Reckless does not mean running blindly into an ice field with our engines at full throttle.
Do you have a story of acting carelessly or foolishly? Share it below!