On July 24th 1915 the steamer S.S. Eastland capsized in the harbor of Chicago. More than 800 people perished in an accident that could have been easily prevented. You see, after the catastrophic collision of the Titanic with an iceberg, a new law was passed stating that all passenger boats were required to carry enough lifeboats for all passengers. Understandable and certainly issued with the best intentions, but it proved to be fatal for the S.S. Eastland.
This steamer’s design wasn’t optimal to begin with, and with the added weight of the extra lifeboats it became top heavy. It capsized while tied to the dock. There was no time to hand out life vests or use the lifeboats and 844 people died, including many women and children.
It’s a horrific example of measures taken with the best intentions, but gone horribly wrong. And it’s not the only example of negative unintended consequences.
Take the law for instance that required cyclists to wear a helmet in Australia in the early nineties. Yes, the number of cycling related head injuries was greatly reduced, but there was another huge unintended consequence: the number of cyclists was reduced as well. People didn’t want to wear the helmet and so they stopped cycling.
What we do in our youth ministry may have the best intentions, but that doesn’t man it can have some big negative unintended consequences. And these consequences can even outweigh what we were trying to regulate in the first place. It’s important to see if the rule and what you’re trying to prevent with it, is indeed more important than the unintended consequences and effects.
Can you think of an example in your youth ministry where the consequences of a rule were worse than if you hadn’t done anything in the first place?