Planning for the Unthinkable

The story of the ill-fated super ship, the Titanic, is widely known.

Approximate Read Time: 5 minutes

When it was launched in April 1912 it was the largest passenger ship in the world. It was unthinkable that it could be sunk by anything, let alone an iceberg floating aimlessly in the North Atlantic.

Ironically, the iceberg did not actually put a hole in the side of the Titanic. It put a really big dent in the hull of the ship. That dent was large enough that the seams of the hull buckled and separated, letting water rush into the ship. From the time it hit the iceberg until it sunk, less than three hours passed.

What was unthinkable became reality.

The unthinkable sinking of the Titanic didn’t reveal a flaw in the design and construction as much as it revealed a flaw in the planning. Because so many people died (more than 1,500), it is thought by some that it didn’t have enough lifeboats. In fact, the Titanic had more than was required of a ship its size in that time.

It was the lack of preparation for disaster that cost so many lives.

The crew was not fully trained in how to carry out an evacuation. The officers and crew didn’t know how many people could be loaded into a lifeboat so there were many only half-filled. Third-class passengers were left to fend for themselves while the crew focused on the rescue of the wealthy, elite passengers. The disaster wasn’t about the iceberg. It was about the failure to anticipate any kind of real problem.

Yes, there is a point to this story, and it is this: organizations and communities need to be prepared for the challenges facing them in the midst of the current culture wars.

Here’s an example.

The Office of Population Affairs (OPA) has put forward a Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFO) for the implementation of evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs throughout the United States and its territories. For over 20 years the Federal government, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OPA, and other agencies has taken on the challenge of reducing teen pregnancy across the United States. This is a worthy and important effort. It is a great program and each iteration of it during the past 20 years has only gotten better.

Today, though, we are embroiled in a culture war over everything from library books to educational content to same sex relationships to pronouns to social-emotional learning to abortion, and many other things, including sexuality education and teen pregnancy prevention. When it comes to teen pregnancy prevention, it’s not that people don’t agree it’s an important problem…it’s that people can’t agree on how to address the problem.

Organizations which win the grants from OPA will be expected to implement evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs in at least three different settings in communities. They will be expected to have a certain minimum number of participants in their program in relation to the amount of the award (e.g., the more money they get, the more participants they are expected to have). Once funded, grantees will have a six-month planning period to build their teen pregnancy prevention “ships” and prepare to launch them.

In that planning period, grantees must also get prepared to get hit by a big bucket of icy water thrown by culture warriors who have teen pregnancy prevention programs in their sights. In some cases, those culture warriors will even try to float in an iceberg to get in the way.

How do we know this?

It has been this way since 1913 when culture warriors sank the first sexual health lectures in Chicago Public Schools…only a year after the sinking of the Titanic. The cultures wars are an intractable conflict that have continued to cycle from cold to hot over the past 120.

At Tenacious Change we’ve had the current culture war in our sights for over a decade. Our founder did his doctoral dissertation on the intractable conflict over sex ed in U.S. public schools. At that time (2009-2013), the culture war was less intense. Still, we continued to develop resources and conduct workshops and training on managing controversy because we understood the cyclical nature of the culture wars. We even included a unit on it in Creating a Change Movement: Getting Started with the Tenacious Change Approach. Over the last decade, though, the culture war has reignited, and it is getting hotter. For this reason, teen pregnancy prevention program planning has to include preparation for confrontation in the current culture wars.

Watch this space over the coming weeks. We’ll be announcing an online seminar to help people plan for the unthinkable in the midst of the culture wars.

Ready to work with us?

Check out our Consultation, Workshop, and Training page on our website where you can learn about our core offerings and services. On the first page of that section, we offer some questions to help you think through what you need and how we can help. We also have an attractive PDF version of this section you can download, print, and share with others on your team or in your organization. Now, how can we help you create greater good in your community or organization? Use our button below to set up a time to talk – no cost, no obligation.

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