Deal with that which is beneath tip of the iceberg


Perhaps no other ship in history has been the subject of numerous film, song and popular folklore as the RMS Titanic. Such is the interest that salvaged artifacts from the ship which sank on April 15, 1912 will be on display in a worldwide travelling exhibition that docks in Cape Town, South Africa, from November 22 this year.

There could be countless reasons for this fascination. The place of fate, of heroism, cowardice, bravery all wrapped in several hours of tragedy and triumph will continue to draw people to this story. In one popular anecdote, the captain boasts that with the great engineering and safety features of the liner, “Even God couldn’t sink this ship”. In the end, God didn’t sink the ship. An iceberg did.

According to historical narratives, the captain had noticed a few chunks of ice in the water near the ship. Nothing that caused him undue stress though. At 11.40 pm on the night of April 14, the passengers felt a slight nudge as the ship hit an iceberg. But the band continued playing.

What they couldn’t have known was that the few chunks of ice on the surface were merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. They did not expect that underneath the calm but freezing waters lay huge underwater ice mountains. It wasn’t what was above the waters that proved deadly. The huge danger lay unseen, beneath the surface.

Every epic tragedy has similar motifs that includes victims, villains, heroes and unseen factors at play. Similarly, in everyday life we are so used to taking circumstances and people at face value that we often get knocked flat out by things we didn’t see coming. On the surface, that teen’s acting out, crazy dressing, and falling grades is only the tip of the iceberg.


Underneath is a desperate cry for help, a desire for attention and approval. That couple that rarely fight or talk to each other anymore. Underneath lies an ever widening rift that is getting harder to bridge. Why don’t we see it? Perhaps because we are surface people. We like to deal with things we can see and touch, things that we think are concrete not abstract.

Perhaps we don’t want to imagine what it really is because then we will have to make some huge decisions. We hope that the problem will go away on its own.

In the case of the rebellious teen, parents, teachers and caregivers need to ask, “where is this really coming from?” Shouts, threats and bribery only alienate the child further. Occasionally, we need to remove ourselves from a situation to see it better. Sometimes just sleeping on it helps give better clarity. If our blind-spots persist, we can seek the opinion of an independent observer who could be a friend or a counsellor trained to spot the iceberg a mile away.

However, sometimes we do not have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation. And sometimes, we are already late, and we have already hit the iceberg, for instance, a financial crisis.

At such times, we need to act in haste, as delay further compounds the problem. When we hit an iceberg, we need all hands on deck. We must call in all our support structures and make urgent decisions to salvage what is left. If it is a problem of debt, we may need to move house, sell belongings or ask for soft loans. Procrastination just digs bigger holes.

So many factors were at play that morning of April 15, and those of us who look with interest at that and similar disasters can only speculate as to how differently things would have turned out “if only”. But of greater importance are the lessons that abound. Lessons that hopefully avert future large scale and personal catastrophes or reduce their impact.

Life teaches us that we need to regularly look beneath the surface, to see beyond what is immediately obvious and to focus our attention on the root of the problem, not merely the symptom.