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Rule #19: Don’t Panic

When I was 15 years old I was a lifeguard. Only now do I realize the absurdity of teenagers being in any way capable of guarding lives. At that point I still hadn't learned how to drive. I’m surprised we all played along with the farce that I might be able to breathe life into another human. But don’t worry. I never had to do anything. But that’s not what they tell you in lifeguard training. As far as they’re concerned, all pool patrons were made of depleted uranium and would immediately sink when put in water. I get it, though. Train for the worst, then the mundane won’t catch you off guard. In training, they kept emphasizing one phrase, “Don’t panic. If you panic, people die.” It’s morbid, but true. What they had to say brought back the time years ago when I read what Douglas Adams wrote simply, “Don’t Panic.” Recently I got SCUBA certified. They also belabored the mantra “Don’t Panic.” This time it had a more personal emphasis in that you could get yourself killed. All these instances make me think that the Universe is trying to tell me something. And I think the Universe is being a bit judgey here, because clearly it thinks I’m a panicker.

But that doesn’t mean it’s never been an issue. Story Time. One fine summer afternoon I went mountain biking. Things were going great. It wasn’t too hot. There wasn’t any wind to push against me. The ice I put in my water bottle still wasn’t quite melted so I still had nice cool water to drink, and plenty of it. I’d been pushing hard for a few hours but I wasn’t feeling the exhaustion yet. Then I rode over a hill to find a majestic downhill that snaked back and forth through a green mountain scape. I thought to myself, “I must take this and I must hold nothing back.” I’m pleased to report that I did not, in fact, hold anything back. I got going fast. It was about as close to bliss as I think I’ve ever been. Then I felt something strange. My back tire lost traction, which was pretty unfortunate. I was also in the middle of turning when it happened. So that cliff I was supposed to bypass soon became part of my itinerary. The only option I could think of was to ditch the bike. Hardly ideal. But considering the circumstances, I could deal with it. I wasn’t slowing down enough. I then realized I was going over the cliff. Panic set in and I got the stupid idea in my head to break with my hands. My soft, ungloved, paper-pushing hands. Even though my bike went over, I thankfully did not. The bad news is that my hands were shredded and I was 25 miles from my car. 

When I panicked I stopped thinking. I was sliding feet first. I could have used my thick, unfeeling, rubber shoes as brakes. I could have used my elbows. But, no, I picked the only option less worse than doing nothing and consigning myself to oblivion. Then, to add insult to injury, when I went to retrieve my bike, I discovered that it was only a 6 foot drop. Hardly lethal. 

We’ve all been there in that moment of terror when we realize everything has suddenly gone horribly wrong. This is where the human panics. And instead of doing something useful, we get some idea stuck in our head that we feel irresistibly compelled to follow through with. That’s why I have rule #19: Don’t panic. Because, when you’re panicking, you aren't thinking. You say things you don’t mean. You do things you would never do under any other circumstances. The people in our lives deserve better than that. And the less we panic, the better we can give them what they deserve.

From the desk of Bryce Tobin, a producer and head rant-writer for The Matt Townsend Show, on BYU Radio.

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