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The Titanic and the Psychology of Tragedy.

Counselling — admin @ 1:24 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about the Titanic. This week marks the centenary of the sinking of that great ship which was built just fifty miles up the road from us here. The tragedy of the loss of the Titanic still attracts our attention a full century after it happened. We wonder what it is about it that generates so much interest. There is something about that tragedy which seems to resonate within us at an unconscious level. Maybe we can identify with the human failings that are at the heart of it.

The story of the Titanic is grounded in the spirit of the age in which it was conceived. One of the most striking things about even the design of the ship was the way it reflected the class divide that held sway at the time. The ship reflected the confidence of the time; in modernity, in engineering and in mankind’s mastery over the Earth. We wonder who we identify with when we look back at this. Is it with the upper class that enjoyed opulence on a scale never seen before on an ocean liner? Or do we imagine ourselves in the bowels of the ship with the steerage passengers.

That class divide is also reflective of the attitude that sent thousands to their deaths in Flanders and The Somme only two years after the sinking if the Titanic. In what was supposed to be the War to End all Wars thousands died heroically but needlessly following a dream that failed to take account of the realities of what became an obsessive conflict. The unsinkable ship ended up at the bottom of the sea because of the human failings of a society that dared to dream. Those dreams failed to take account of worldly limitations and obstacles ably represented in this story by the bulk of an Atlantic iceberg. We all have dreamed. And we all have met with icebergs which have threatened to hole us below the waterline and leave us floundering.

The personal stories of those lost in the sinking of the Titanic mirror those of any time. People set off on that journey hoping to find work or to make a new life. The very name of the ship reflected the scale of the hope of that time. It was Titanic, meaning it was enormous in scale. Named for the Titans of ancient Greece who ruled in the time of the Golden Age it was representative of the Edwardian dream of a new Golden Age. Therein lays some clues about our ongoing fascination with the tragedy of the loss of the Titanic.

Each of us passes through phases of childhood which leave us on the cusp of launching into adult life. We may dream big; indeed our dream of what life holds for us may be titanic. We may put doubt to the side and steam ahead in the belief that nothing can stop us. And we may come across real world difficulties and obstacles that force us to stop in our tracks. We can find analogies for life in the story of the loss of the Titanic. Blame and reproach at the loss of a dream can leaves us becalmed in the waters of depression.

Moving on means finding some understanding of what it was we were trying to achieve and how or where it went wrong. It means understanding the scope of the dream and maybe even forgiving the dreamer for the scale of their wish. No great advancement is ever made without first being represented in a dream. Sometimes the dream is not fulfilled because of our own failings. Then perhaps the best course is to tweak the dream, take account of the obstacles and set sail again. Taking on board the mistakes of the past means being able to mourn the loss of unfulfilled dreams and then moving on with new ones.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk. 13th April 2012.

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