KEEPING CALM IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY
WHEN Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) escaped from the Island of Elba after his first term of imprisonment, he was accompanied by a small group of loyal soldiers. After having been dethroned, he again aspired for the throne of France. But in the very first encounter, he found himself face-to-face with 20,000 French soldiers.
Napoleon, one of the most courageous leaders the world has known, wisely avoided direct confrontation. At the crucial moment when he and his little band of men stood facing the enormous army, he stepped forward calmly, completely unarmed before his enemies. With great composure, he unbuttoned his coat baring his chest and in a voice charged with emotion, he addressed the great throng of soldiers— many of whom had served under him in the past: “Which one of you is willing to fire at the naked chest of his father?” The battlefield rang with shouts of ‘No one!’ Almost all the soldiers from the enemy camp rushed to Napoleon’s side. Despite his initial lack of military resources, Napoleon emerged victorious and once more ascended the throne of France. Had he attempted to do battle with the French army, he would surely have been slaughtered on that very battlefield.
Whatever a man’s resources, to deal effectively with a situation, he must be able to make a proper assessment. And he will not be able to do this if he panics in the face of danger. By steeling his nerves and keeping his mind open to what is practical, he can overcome the obstacles in his path. Inevitably his success depends on his choice of material and mental resources available and then putting them to proper use. History abounds in instances of the weak overcoming the strong simply by strategic deployments of resources.
Such success is often when the opponent is not as strong as he appears to be. Everyone has his Achilles’ heel. It is just a question of finding it and then responding accordingly. Just as Napoleon exploited the French troops’ sentimental loyalty to himself—that being his only mainstay—so, too, can ordinary individuals take advantage of their opponents’ vulnerability without the kind of confrontation that could be disastrous to both sides. o