It is akin to courage, for the reasoning powers quickly yield to the tyranny of fear. It should be accompanied by ready wit. The presence of a mind that is worthless is of little avail. A reckless and undaunted fool is of no more use than a man of intelligence benumbed by terror.
It is not uncommon to find men with some reputation for sagacity losing that reputation in the face of danger or emergency. Their faculties become paralyzed and they know not how to act.
Such men are unfit for responsible posts. The general who loses his head on the battle-field is at once discredited, and, however faithful and loyal a servant of the state he may be in other respects, he cannot be allowed to serve it any longer in the capacity of a commander of troops.
In commercial life, through rumours of wars and disasters or the manipulation of markets, panics are often created. Men rashly buy and sell shares and bankruptcies multiply.
The men who escape ruin are those who can look at the situation calmly and deliberately, and, instead of blindly imitating the mob, investigate the circumstances of the case and base their decision on the result of their investigations.
The mother who faints or sits down to scream when an accident happens to her child, may lose a child whom prompt assistance might have saved.
Presence of mind is largely an innate gift and only partly capable of cultivation. Nevertheless, the man who has developed his powers of thought by education, and keeps his body strong and able, is more likely to act in emergency with wisdom and promptitude than one whose mind and body are enfeebled by indulgence.
Then again, knowledge will prevent many foolish actions. Though we cannot possibly be prepared against all dangers, we can learn what dangers are likely to be met within our particular walk of life, and what steps are to be taken in certain contingencies.
The general, by a study of military history, can find out how others acted in difficulties, and the mother can make herself acquainted with the principles of first aid in case of accident, and the remedies to be first applied in case of sudden sickness.