A Hero Never Panics

A Hero Never Panics

One spring day six or seven years ago, I drove back into the camp I worked at and noticed two people standing on the bridge across the creek. The bridge was on the outskirts of camp, so it was very rare to see anyone there.

Me: “What are you two doing?”
Them: “We’re watching for a ten foot wall of water that’s coming our way.”
Me: “??”

Someone had called the camp office to say the creek was blocked at a bridge upstream and that the bridge was going to collapse at any minute and unleash a ten foot wall of water. And it was COMING OUR WAY!

For reference, the creek entered the camp’s 150 acre lake before coming out the other side to form the stream that our camp bridge spanned. The bridge where staff were watching out for a ten foot wall of water.

I laughed and explained that even if there was a ten foot wall of water coming, it would not translate into anything huge on our side of the lake because the lake would absorb that initial rush. They weren’t convinced. They had been given walkie talkies, so it was obviously serious.

Pulling up next to the camp office, I walked in to find it empty except for one person who was manning the phone to hear the latest from the emergency. I then headed over to the dining hall where my boss, the camp director, was holding an urgent staff meeting on the back deck to explain the evacuation plans.

For more reference, most of the camp (including all of the buildings) were more than ten feet above water level.

I asked if I could speak to the director and tried to explain some basic spatial physics. I managed to convince him that evacuation was not required. Everyone calmed down. Later that night as I was sitting in an emergency room for a completely unrelated incident, camp was evacuated .  Three hundred kids were sent home, many of them lived more than two hours away. In the morning, the lake’s level had increased by six inches

I share this story, because it is important to keep calm when faced with a situation that might require heroic action.

Heroes don’t panic.

Panicking can lead to misjudgment of the gravity of a situation. Panicking can create a paralysis. Panicking can negatively effect those around you – particularly if you’re in a leadership position.

A panicked person is not going to help someone who needs a hero. In fact, a panicked person can further harm someone who needs a hero, perhaps requiring more heroes.

When something surprising happens, force yourself to take a few seconds to consider the thoughts that are flying through your head.  Ask yourself where those thoughts are coming from and what their effect might be. Ask yourself if the information you’re receiving is accurate. Ask yourself if there really is any reason to panic. There rarely is. Choose to do something helpful instead.

Quest Work: (what is this?)   When was the last time you panicked? In retrospect, what could you have changed about that situation? Answer in the comments.

image from Flickr

About Matt Langdon

I'm writing the Hero Handbook. This site is my notepad.

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9 Responses to A Hero Never Panics

  1. Mark September 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    Weird–I used to get panic attacks surfing. I think the panic was my break with control. I think the would-be hero learns from panic, and learns that it’s misplaced but voltaic creative and lifesaving power.

    Great post.



    • Matt Langdon September 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

      Thanks Mark. I guess the proper title should be The Hero Learns From Panic. So true. The ability to observe the panic as it’s happening is a great learning tool.

  2. Tom Holt September 7, 2011 at 1:10 am #

    I think it is incorrect to say that a hero NEVER panics or to postulate that a hero REGULARLY panics, and learns from panic. I believe that it would be more accurate to say that a hero is prepared to not panic. I looked into “theheroconstructioncompany” and was disappointed to see that it was gone from the site. The Hero Imagination Project is something of a modern incarnation. Basically, looking at the hero myth structure, you see that the hero must be made, or rather, one must make oneself into a hero. Heroism doesn’t just happen. Someone who reacts instinctively to save someone is a Hero in the press, but that person simply and serendipitously did something good. Nothing wrong with that, but that isn’t the kind of Hero we’re talking about. The intentional Hero prepares to overcome their own resistance to action and purposefully steps into the roll of doing what is right. Part of the preparation to become a hero is preparing for the challenges that await, and knowing how to respond appropriately. Eventually, as one studies adversity and appropriate response, one learns to deal with adversity through simplistic algorithms of decision-making. Part of any successful decision-making process is the understanding of the importance of remaining calm while the solution is created. Eventually, one can create a mindset of problem-solving such that very little or nothing that one might confront would cause one to truly panic. The fact that the hero does not panic (or is unlikely to panic) is secondary to the primary fact of what the hero DOES do: “The hero prepares to do what is right under extremely adverse conditions.” This act of preparation BEFORE the moment presents itself requires discipline, and the failure to prepare in this way is responsible for many well-meaning people failing to live up to their own heroic expectations when the moment finally does present itself, either because they didn’t identify the moment, or they were not able to seize it before it passed.

    • Matt Langdon September 7, 2011 at 6:46 am #

      Thanks for your comments Tom. theheroconstructioncompany.com is in the process of being pointed to theherocc.com – please have a look at it. Also, if you read through the previous posts here, I think you’ll find I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. This whole site is about preparing for heroism.

  3. Tom Holt September 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    I later read your two parts about preparation. I think much the same way you do… I’m always preparing for the worst. Whenever I get on a plane or a boat with my family, I always tell me wife what the plan is in case of emergency. I tell her where to go, which kids to take, and where to meet. She used to make fun of me, then she evolved to chuckling and listening, and now she just looks around for the exits I’m talking about and seems to accept it as a normal way of thinking. (Or she’s just getting really good at humoring me) Yet, I’ve never thought of it as preparation for heroism, but simply preparation for life. The fact that a person is characterized as a “hero” seems to have less to do with the person’s action, and more to do with the relative INACTION of others. This seems like a new wrinkle in the conversation.
    They just unveiled the “Remember Them” monument in Oakland today.
    One of the person’s memorialized is the Unknown Rebel of Tiananmen Square. Interesting that if 100,000 people rally against the government for social change, they are revolutionaries, but if all but one run away when the tanks roll in, that one is a hero. That’s why the hero is humble. Usually, he did in fact, have no plan to be a hero. He simply did whatever he was prepared to do, for whatever reason he was prepared to do it. After the fact, everyone ELSE, couldn’t figure out how that person was able to react the way he/she did, and so they attribute it to a mysterious and almost supernatural quality of that person… “heroism”.

    • Matt Langdon September 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

      You’re right on point about heroism being related to the inaction of others. It’s all a comparison piece, basically. A hero is someone who acts in a way that places him or her above the average. So, in a world where so many people remain bystanders, someone who simply chooses to do something good despite even a small risk or sacrifice becomes heroic.

      I find the Unknown Rebel interesting too. Ultimately we don’t know if he was acting on behalf of others or whether, on his way home from shopping, he just wanted to know why exactly tanks were needed to disperse a crowd of students. He’s a symbol, no doubt, but a hero? Hard to say.

      Agreed – heroes generally didn’t plan to be. But I think that’s just because no-one has suggested that we plan for it. I believe that by training people, there will be many more acts of heroism than if we left things as they were/are.

  4. alidd20 October 22, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    i have not got much experience with panic, but i think it is something we have to learn from and learn how to control in ourselves.

  5. Tess Doucet June 22, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    I have been looking and feeling into fear – my own and that of (what) others (think of me) – in recent years, as part of a Quest to free myself.

    The question that has helped me, is: am I scared because of something life-threatening, to myself or to someone near or dear to me? Or, on the other hand, does the fear I am starting to feel concern something relatively harmless, such as feeling ashamed or looking stupid?

    Second category answers make fear unnecessary. A slight discomfort, maybe. But fear? No. Therefor, only first category answers mandate quick, and/or decisive action.

    If I do not know how to stop the threatening thing, panic may be helpful when bellowing HELP at top of voice or summoning superhuman powers (?).

    Wouldn’t that be the main use of panic? To communicate life threatening stress about which one is powerless? We have many more useful communication options nowadays. Although bellowing in panic may still have it’s time and place.

    Love your work and TED talk, Matt! Keep it up. You already are a hero to us wannabees : D

    • Matt Langdon June 23, 2014 at 12:56 am #

      Thanks for the comment Tess. Unfortunately, bellowing HELP has often shown to be of no use. For a while, it was advised that yell Fire! In cases of not knowing exactly how to help, you can always use your opportunity to bring others into the situation. Find others who can help.

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