Panic is the fear which makes great masses of men rush into the abyss without due reason. It is, in fact, a mass sentiment with which there is no reasoning. Yet at one time or another in his career every man in business will be confronted with a stampede of this character, and if he does not understand how to deal with it, he will be trampled in the mud.
The purely stubborn man will be the first to go under. He will say, and may be perfectly right in saying, that there is no real cause for anxiety. He will prepare to run slap through the storm, and refuse to reef a single financial sail. He forgets that the mere existence of panic in the minds of others is in itself as hard a factor in the situation as the real value of the properties on the market which are being stampeded. The atmosphere of the business world is a reality even when the views which produce it are wrong. To face a panic one must first of all realise the intrinsic facts, and then allow for the misreading of others. It is the plastic and ingenious mind which will best grapple with these unusual circumstances. It will invent weapons and expedients with which to face each new phase of the position. "Whenever you meet an abnormal situation," said the sage, "deal with it in an abnormal manner." That is sound advice. But a business panic is, after all, a rare phenomenon—something a man need only have to face once in a lifetime. It is the panic in the mind of the individual which is the perpetual danger. How many men are there who let this perpetual fear of financial disaster gnaw at their minds like a rat in the dark? Those who only see the mask put on in the daytime would be astonished to know the number of men who lay awake at night quaking with fear at some imagined disaster, the day of which will probably never come. These are the men who cannot keep a good heart—who lack that particular kind of courage which prevents a man becoming the prey of his own nervous imagination. They sell out good business enterprises at an absurdly low price because they have not got the nerve to hold on. Those who buy them secure the profits. One may pity the sellers, but cannot blame the buyers. Those who have the courage of their judgment are bound to win. These pessimists foresee all the possibilities, and just because they foresee too much, it may be that they will spin out of the disorder of their own minds a real failure which a little calmness and courage would have avoided.
The moment a man is infected with this internal panic-fear, he ceases to be able to exercise his judgment. He is convinced, let us say, that the raw material of his industry is running short. He sees himself with contracts on hand which he will not be able to complete. Very likely there is not the remotest risk of any such shortage arising, but, in the excess of his anxiety, he buys too heavily, and at too high a price. His actions become impulsive rather than reasoned. It is true that in the perfectly balanced temperament action will follow on judgment so quickly that the two operations cannot be distinguished. Such decisions may appear to be precipitate or impulsive, but they are not really so. But the young man who has the disease of fear in his brain cells will act on an impulse which is purely irrational, because it is based on a blind terror and not on a reasoned experience.
When a man is in this state of mind, the best thing he can do is to delay his final decisions until he has really thought matters out. If he does this, the actual facts of the case may, on reflection, prove far less serious than the impulsive and diseased mind has supposed.
But it must follow that a man who can only trust his judgment to operate after a period of time must be in the second class, compared with the formed judgment which can flash into sane action in a moment. He must always be a day behind the fair—a quality fatal to real success.
How can the victim exorcise from his mind this dread of the unknown—this partly conscious and partly subconscious form of fear, "which eats the heart alway"? Nothing can throw off the grip which this acute anxiety has fixed on the brain, except a resolute effort of will and intelligence. I, myself, would give one simple recipe for the cure. When you feel inclined to be anxious about the present, think of the worst anxiety you ever had in the past. Instead of one grip on the mind, there will be two distinct grips—and the greater grip of the past will overpower the lesser one in the present. "Nothing," a man will say, "can be as bad as that crisis of old, and yet I survived it successfully. If I went through that and survived, how far less arduous and dangerous is the situation to-day?" A man can thus reason and will himself into the possession of a stout heart.
If a man can still the panic of his own heart, he will need to fear very little all the storms which may rage against him from outside. "It is the nature of tense spirits," says Lord Rosebery, "to be unduly elated and unduly depressed." A man who can conquer these extremes and turn them into common level of effort is the man who will be master in the sphere of his own soul, and, therefore, capable of controlling the vast currents which flow from outside. He may rise to that height of calmness once exhibited by Lord Leverhulme, who, when threatened with panic in his business, remarked, "Yes, of course, if the skies fall, all the larks will be killed." Panic, therefore, whether external or internal, is an experience which tests at once the body, the mind, and the soul. The internal panic is an evil which can only be cured by a resolute application of the will and intellect to the subconscious self. The panic of a world suddenly convulsed in its markets is like a thunderstorm, sweeping from the mountains down the course of a river to where some town looks out on the bay. It comes in a moment from the wild, and passes as swiftly into the sea. It has the evanescence of a dream and yet all the force of reality. It consists of air and rain, and yet the lighter substance, driven with the force of a panic passion, can uproot the solid materials, as the tornado the tall trees and the stone dwellings of humanity, and turn the secular lives of men into desolation and despair. When it has passed, all seems calm, and only the human wreckage remains to show the power of the storm that has swept by.
To face these sudden blows which seem to come out of the void, men must have their reserves of character and mentality well in hand. The first reserve is that of intellect.
Never let mere pride or obstinacy stand in the way of bowing to the storm.
Firmness of character should on these terrible occasions be turned inside out, and be formed into a plasticity of intellect which finds at once its inspiration and its courage in the adoption of novel expedients. The courage of the heart will let no expedient of the ingenuity be left untried. But both ingenuity and courage will find their real source in a health which has not yet exhausted the resources of the body. Firmness which is not obstinacy, health which is not the fad of the valetudinarian, adaptability which is not weakness, enterprise which is not rashness—these are the qualities which will preserve men in those evil days when the "blast of the terrible one is against the wall..
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