Life ‘compartments’ are important

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Miklos Kiss, Jr.
  • 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander
April 14 marks the 95th anniversary of one of history's most famous disasters. On its maiden voyage from Southampton, the White Star Liner "Titanic" sank in the iceberg infested North Atlantic Ocean.

Thought to be unsinkable, Titanic pulled down 1,496 of 2,208 people aboard, carrying them to a frigid water grave. After the passing of time, tragedies often can offer parallels of hope and redemption. While a lovely story, one can dig deeper and find even greater meaning from Titanic.

It is often believed that it takes a mighty blow to fell a big ship, yet the hardest steel is vulnerable to rust and rupture. Size and strength is not a guarantor of success, likewise for Airmen, even those made of steel.

Titanic's steel was discovered to be lacking in compositional integrity.
Interesting parallel, weak integrity causes fatal failure. How many times have you seen this in human vessels?

The larger the life, the more spectacular the failure when it is an integrity failure. Witness previous Presidents Nixon and Clinton, or the saga of a recent astronaut. It stands to reason that integrity is the Air
Force's first core value. It provides the armor for all we do. Breach it, and one sinks to the bottom.
Dr Robert Ballard's ocean floor explorer Alvin discovered Titanic's grave and disproved the original theory as to why the ship sank.

The ship was not massively ripped open along 300 feet of hull as originally depicted in headlines of the day, but rather several hull plates and rivets had buckled off during impact with the iceberg (again the structural integrity thing). The ship was designed to stay afloat with four compartments flooded but the compartments were not watertight; when one flooded to the top it spilled over and took adjacent compartments with it.

How similar is this to our own lives?

Many great Americans have taken piercing blows and crippling failures; yet survived and prospered. Lance Armstrong was at the top of his cycling career when cancer struck. His health compartment was flooding, but thanks to his physical training, family and spirit compartments, he was able to stay afloat, overcome and win the Tour d'France a remarkable fifth time.

The key is not to let a failure or change in one part of your life sink your entire life.

Many years ago I worked with a master sergeant who lost his 10-year-old child. As a father, I do not know how one can lead a normal life after that, but this man did. Sorrow flooded his family compartment, but his faith, a close group of friends and the support of his Air Force family kept him afloat. I know he grieves privately some days, but today he leads a productive and positive life.

Often work is the sole purpose in many people's lives, and when these folks lose their jobs or retire, they sink because they evolved into a one-compartment ship. Their entire lives became wrapped-up in work; they had no hobbies and their spouses have sadly left them.

On retirement day, they sail out in a single compartment boat after a fine farewell send off, and gradually sink into depression the following months. My uncle was like this. He died a few years after retirement as a chef, spending the last days of his life puttering around a dirty house, drinking scotch and sodas. He was out of touch with his own sons, had few interests, neglected his health, and lacked close friends. Eventually the scotch and sodas flooded his last compartment (health) and down he went.

An effective personal strategy for success entails one having many "compartments" and they must all be strong and able to carry the others in times of trouble.

Health, spirit, career, friends, family, hobbies, intellect, finance, religion, interests, and more; all these things make you ... you. Together they keep you afloat. Resilient people can have problems in one or two areas and use the others to stay afloat while they recover. However, unlike ships, people are not born with these compartments. They must be built, reinforced and maintained after we have put out to sea.

It requires heart and energy to build a network of friends. It is all too easy to succumb to the couch and let the blissful numbness of cable television wash over you at day's end. We disengage at our peril.
Research published in the June 2006 issue of American Sociological Review found that the number of American people who said they had no one with whom to discuss such matters more than doubled in the last 20 years.

The survey found that the greatest loss was in non-family connections.

Dr. Lynn Smith-Lovin, Professor of Sociology at Duke University notes: "This change indicates something that's not good for our society. Ties with a close network of people create a safety net."

Building a ship or even your bank account, to the degree where it is safe enough to cover emergencies, takes years of effort. How can we believe a much more complex entity like a family support structure takes less time and work? A loving family does not just happen; it requires not only "quality time" but "quantity time" as well. Building your professional reputation as the "go to guy" requires considerable effort as well.

It takes study, some long hours and a passion for what you do.

Building a strong and fit body to ride out a storm, requires a four-day-per week investment. No less important is building the mental health compartment which includes hobbies requiring intellect and active engagement instead of the mind-numbing inaction of evening television

Remember the Titanic this month and her lessons for all of us.

If we build our ship well, we find not only that we have created a life worth living, but that we have made one much harder to sink as we steer our course through the inevitable icebergs of life.