Essay No. 59:
Presence Of Mind: When asked, “What is better than the presence of mind in an accident? a wag said? “Absence of body.” This is certainly true; but as we cannot always escape accidents so easily, we should have, or cultivate, what is called the presence of mind. “Presence of mind means to keep cool and calm in an emergency of any kind.
It is the opposite, not of absent-mindedness, but of “losing one’s head’. The words mind and head in these phrases mean reason, and so one who has the presence of mind in danger is one who has such control over his nerves that his reason is not upset but still directs his actions. People who, as we say, “lose their heads” in an emergency, are so awed by fear, anxiety or excitement that their reason is for the time in abeyance, or “absent”.
As such they do and say silly things in their fright and haste. It is generally some sudden danger, or threat of danger, that makes people lose their heads. An officer may lose his head in a sudden attack; if so, he is not fit for his post. A driver may lose his head in the traffic of a crowded street and cause a serious accident. A business-man may lose his head in a business crisis, and rashly buy or sell shares to his loss or ruin.
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A mother may lose her head when her child meets an accident and sit down and scream, and lose her little one. But in all these cases, people who keep cool, and do not lose their presence of mind, may keep the danger and save the situation. Presence of mind is God‘s gift. It is a wish no doubt. Such people are very lucky; as their presence of mind in an emergency may come up to save them from taking a false step which might ruin others.
But it is not the case with all. It is, however, possible for nervous and excitable people to cultivate the presence of mind. What one needs most is to practise to control the emotions, must deliberately check and restrain ourselves from being carried away by our feelings, such as, anger, fear, anxiety, excessive grief or excessive joy. We must keep a tight rein on those fiery steeds, the passions. If we thus form a habit of self-restraint, we shall be all the better able to keep cool and calm in the face of danger.