Sinking Our Own Ships

for the week of July 15, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

There was a tiny single-column entry on the bottom-left edge of page 11 that I nearly missed. Why, if someone had been trying to hide the story not that I think someone did that was the perfect place for it! It had a caution I need.

"Russia says faulty torpedo sank nuclear submarine" was the headline. The 13-line story gave the official verdict of a Russian investigation into the disastrous loss of one of Russian's most powerful nuclear submarines during navel exercises in August 2000. All 118 members of the Kursk's crew perished, although some survived for several hours in the rear of the doomed vessel. It remains Russia's worst peacetime naval catastrophe.

Losing one of its showpiece subs was a terrible embarrassment to its military and political leaders. As that nation witnessed a great outpouring of grief, they were indisposed to admit the possibility of a failure in Russian technology. The less-sinister explanation was that the Kursk might have struck a World War II mine. The more-sinister scenario had a NATO submarine colliding with it.

With most of the ship raised now, 115 bodies identified and buried, and extensive research reviewed by a government commission, we know why the Kursk sank. It wasn't an old mine. It wasn't shadowy pursuit by other nations. The Kursk sank because one of its own faulty torpedoes exploded. The Russian navy has now ordered that type of torpedo removed from service throughout its fleet.

Why should I or anyone else be pleased not to have missed that story? It reminded me that I am most often my own worst enemy! When disaster strikes, I am tempted to live in denial about torpedoing my own prospects. I look around instinctively for a scapegoat. I can give two or three possibilities at the drop of a hat for how circumstances beyond my control, co-workers, fate maybe even God could be to blame. But not me. Personal responsibility is often painful.

Hey, things do happen beyond our control. And there's no spiritual virtue in trying to take the blame for every bad thing that happens around you. I'm just reminding myself to be alert to the opposite and more familiar tendency to live in denial or by blaming others for my own self-sabotaging behaviors.

If there is a situation or relationship in which you know you were the one who threw sand into the gears, do the right thing. Stop blaming others. Take responsibility. Only with honesty about what really happened can healing begin.

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