Harry A. Jackson, CAPT USN

In the 1980’s, I had the opportunity to take a course on submarine design from CAPT Harry Jackson, USN Ret.  CAPT Jackson had participated in the design of more submarine types than any other US naval officer.  And while I could still design a submarine based on what I learned in that course – it’s on my bucket list – the most important thing I learned came from his analysis of submarine disasters – the USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher.  Other than the immediate causes of the disasters, his statement that it took at least “three mistakes to cause death” has stayed with me ever since.  In fact, in the week immediately after the Columbia fell out of the sky, I repeated Jackson’s statement to a co-worker.  She would later send me the final report on the Columbia accident and write, “When you said that to me, I thought you were crazy.  But after reading the report, there were a lot more than three mistakes!”

Since that class, I have often looked for the three mistakes in every death that made it to my attention.  My study has lead me to realize that most deaths can be prevented by known methods.  Drunk drivers killing themselves and others could simply not drink (not likely), use designated drivers or take a taxi.  People fatally falling from construction sites could use necessary safety equipment and procedures.  You get the idea.

But there is one area that seems to be immune to this logic in the USA – gun deaths.  And I’m not talking just about the mass killings, although they are the most dramatic.  It’s suicides and domestic violence more than the mass killings.  But because so many occur in just ones and twos, we as society just seem to let them pass without a thought more than “that’s so sad!” or a prayer for the ones involved.

Part of the problem is that we rarely think that the problem will occur or involve us personally.  If you think you kids won’t get involved in drugs, then you don’t worry that the people they associate with or the parties they go to will have drugs present – “My kids would NEVER use drugs!”  If you think your spouse won’t commit suicide, you won’t worry about locking up or removing guns from your home.  It’s a problem that doesn’t directly affect you, so you respond on an intellectual level.

It’s only when there’s a personal impact that we will respond with urgency and intensity.  Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) was started by two mothers who lost children from drunk drivers.  American for Responsible Solutions was started by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly – victims of gun violence.  And so, it is for many that become advocates for causes – it’s only after a personal impact that the emotional drive occurs to sustain involvement.

So, until there’s a personal impact for most of our decision makers, we will see little if any progress on gun violence – or any other societal problem.  But the personal impact doesn’t have to be suffering from the problem – I’m not advocating that people must be victims or related to victims of gun violence or whatever.  It can simply be that if you don’t support a solution to the problem, then you are socially isolated or punished.  Drunk driving and the use of designated drivers is an excellent example.  Hollywood created the image of being responsible by having a designated driver by just adding a few lines of dialogue in scenes repeatedly.  Now, everyone knows they should have a designated driver – we just have to get them to actually use them.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.