Children come first

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It was Friday the 13th, in the year of the 100th anniversary of the tragedy of the Titanic.

The date of the sinking of Italian cruise ship the Costa Concordia could have come straight from the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster.

For sure, the tragic event which you can still scarcely believe actually happened one day will be.

Such tragedies remind us all just how vulnerable we are. And make us question what we would do in such a terrifying situation. That’s why we’re engrossed by the news reports. We all want to know how it could have happened.

As incredible as it is that something the size of a village can float, it’s even harder to accept that such a monumental feat of modern engineering can actually sink. It made you think of all the ships and ferries you’ve been on and how, aboard each one of them, you’ve pondered on the miraculous madness of it all, then shrugged and trusted.

Yet now it appears that the vain and foolhardy actions of just one man, in this case, it seems, the captain, can thwart everything.

And as the survivors’s stories have tumbled out, through tears and hugs at airports, what everyone wants to talk about is that one humane and heroic phrase: “Women and children first.”

We’re deliberating. Was it right, or was it wrong, that in a 21st century maritime disaster, the old, unwritten rule of the seas was ignored by many a man?

Throughout history, it made sense to keep women safe at the expense of men. But should a woman’s life still rank higher than a man’s?

Surely the rule should be “children first”. Our role in society is to protect and nurture our young; the next generation. It is also our deepest instinct.

But, if a parent should go with them, why should that be a woman? The five-year-old Italian girl and her father, feared drowned; should they have been forced apart had they made it to the deck?

Women have fought for equality. If the age-old law of disaster at sea had been: “men first,” it would undoubtedly have been cast out long ago. Why then, when the chips are down, should we feel we are more valuable than anyone else?

Some men would instinctively feel the urge to protect women and children; to be heroic. Others, as was clearly demonstrated on January 13, would not. Modern society cannot demand it of them.

Likely, the men who rushed to leave the sinking ship wanted to get to their families, to protect their wives and children from suffering. We can’t accuse them of being selfish and un-chivalrous.

Instead of lashing out at them, why don’t we remember just how far society has advanced in terms of fairness and decency since the sinking of the Titanic?

The poorest passengers and the lowliest staff had no choice but to die so the rich could survive.