Don’t panic and drown

As every scuba diver knows, panic is your worst enemy: when it hits, your mind starts to thrash and you are likely to do something really stupid and self-destructive.
Daniel Dennett
1942 –

I grew up in a small town in east central Mississippi. In my high school years, I hung out with a group of friends that enjoyed fishing, hunting and camping. One of the more affluent members of our group had access to a flat-bottomed boat with an outboard motor, and we got to use it occasionally.

One of our favorite spots was a small river a few miles outside of town. The river was thirty or forty feet wide but only about three feet deep.

I can still remember my friend’s words of advice as I stepped into the boat for the first time: “If you fall overboard or the boat capsizes, don’t panic and drown; stand up and walk out.” We were young, active, and sometimes careless, so it would have been easy for someone to fall overboard–but falling into that particular river wouldn’t be the end of the world unless you panicked.

The implication behind his statement provides an important lesson: to always remember where you are and understand your circumstances. I’ve often recalled this advice over the years and put it to good use. There are moments in life when we assume the worst and panic before we fully comprehend our circumstances. In times of great emotional stress such as losing your job or home, enduring a divorce or separation, or facing the death of a loved one, it’s easy to panic. And while we may not literally drown, we might do things that make the situation worse.

I’ve seen people misjudge their circumstances and do things that create new problems instead of solving the original one. There have even been cases where people misjudged their circumstances so much that they ended their lives; I know of several New Orleans residents who committed suicide in the months following Hurricane Katrina.

So the lesson you should learn is that things are generally not as devastating as we fear. When you get in over your head and are underwater, don’t panic and drown. Stand tall, and if you can’t walk out on your own, be sure to seek some help.

It’s the easiest thing in the world for a man to deceive himself.
Ben Franklin
1706 – 1790

Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor

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