Let’s keep it together

Earlier this week I was reminded of that wonderful old poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

It was one of my father’s favourite pieces of literature and one he lived his life by.  We live in a very difficult and complicated world and it very easy to find one’s self lost in the chaos of recriminations, strife and anger that surround us every day. I think that sometimes my father handled his business affairs a little like a military campaign. He would strategize to the n-th degree, trying to second guess the competition and doing everything he could to put his competitors (or enemies as he often called them) off their stride. But whatever his competitors were doing, however much pressure the business put on him, he remained always stoical and I never saw him lose his temper over a business matter. I remember him saying to me once when I had first started working with him at the office.

Don’t get me wrong, my father had quite a temper on him and he could fly into the most alarming and frightening rages, but never over the big issues. One felt that the world could be facing imminent doom and my father would remain the calm and reassuring rock that we all could cling to. If he had been on board the Titanic, he would have simply poured himself another gin and listened to the band play on. But should he find anything out of place in his study, or muddy footprints across the hall, woe betide the culprit (usually a much younger me!).

I think I must have inherited that from him, that very English ability to remain calm in the face of adversity. I like to think of myself as a relatively calm sort of chap;  I don’t get angry easily or very often. But there are times when one can see that final straw approaching and one knows that the proverbial stack is about to blow.

Like my father, the bigger worries of the world do not bother me too much. After all, there is very little point in getting worked up about something you can do nothing about. What would be the point in that? But what I do find is that frustration over seemingly insignificant things or some form of injustice can, and often will, lead me to lose my temper.

But not everyone shares this view of life. There are a number of the chaps at the Club who would do well to read and take heed of Mr Kipling’s inspiring words. But I suppose that in this day and age where there is so much pressure to conform and succeed, it is very easy to be pushed off track by events. Just yesterday I dropped into the Club for a quiet lunch when I found myself caught up in what I thought was a lively conversation, but turned out to be a slowly simmering argument. Two of the chaps – both very pleasant normally – it turns out were business rivals and had had a falling out over some kind of deal or other. Now, I didn’t get all the details, to be honest, it was difficult to follow exactly what they were saying after a while, but it was obvious that they would need to be separated before heated words turned into something a little more substantial.

I felt a little like one of those UN peacekeepers that you used to see much of on the television, positioning myself between the two combatants. All I needed was the blue beret. I have never, in all the years I have been a member of the Club, seen any of the chaps lose their composure in such a spectacular fashion. That is not to say that there haven’t been arguments and the occasional small fracas in the bar, but yesterday’s incident was by far the worst I have witnessed. And not just witnessed! There I was, arms outstretched, keeping the two of them apart, only find myself at the receiving end of a powerful left hook. It took me rather by surprised I can tell you. One moment I was standing there between them, seeking calm and consideration, the next I was sitting on the damp floor (it seems that one of the chaps had spilt his drink at the onset of hostilities) with my back to the bar and a throbbing left cheek.

I am a little unsure about what happened next. There was a flurry of activity, a little more shouting and quite a few pairs of legs passing in front of my eyes, then it was all over. The warring businessmen had been separated, calm restored, and a first aid kit secured to tend my wounds.

I cannot imagine what it was that had brought these two normally relaxed chaps to such a point of bitterness and recrimination. As my father said to me, there is nothing that can’t be resolved by a little calm consideration and a quiet word. I wholeheartedly agree with his approach and only wish that others would do the same. So much more can be achieved when we keep it together rather than losing control.

This is an adage that the current incumbent of the White House should take note of too. There is no point in his antagonising the likes of the North Koreans and then expect them to take notice of what one has to say. Diplomacy doesn’t work that way.

By the time I visited Hope later in the evening my cheek had come up in a gloriously colourful bruise that demanded some explanation. She was as appalled as I was at the behaviour of the two gentlemen in question, but relieved that I had not received any further injuries. In fact, Hope made feel like something of a hero which I suppose I am really.

Worrying unduly over matters that you cannot change or the inherent dishonesty of business seems so pointless to me. One could spend one’s life getting worked up about this and that, but it would be short and not too happy life. I for one prefer to keep calm and carry on, as the old war posters used to say.

I have kept something of a low profile today but will be out and about tomorrow with Hope. With a little luck, the bruising will have gone down a little.

And for those out there who are not familiar with Kipling’s “If”, you can read the full poem here.

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