January 28, 2012
I define fear as how close you feel to what you fear. My friend Commissioner von Raab told me about an incident when he was in government and how two four-star generals who had seen action on the battlefield would chicken out time and again when in a different environment, such as in a ministerial conference. They feared upsetting higher-ups, whereas in battle one does not have the luxury of sucking up. Von Raab was being kind. Fear is uncontrollable. I have a friend who has conquered Everest and has climbed the north side of the Eiger five times. Yet when we do karate, he flinches and covers up the moment I fake an attack.
Close to twenty million people cruise yearly on boats such as the Costa Concordia, and I’ll bet my last devalued euro that every last one, except those suffering from dementia, picture themselves in a Titanic-like situation and ask themselves what they would REALLY do in case the boat was going down and there were not enough lifeboats for everyone. Here’s what I said in the Proustian questionnaire Vanity Fair magazine conducts in each issue:
Question: How would you like to die?
Answer: Giving up the last seat in the last lifeboat of a sinking liner to a young beautiful girl and returning to the first-class lounge for a final drink.
I know, I know, it sounds terrific and romantic and macho and noble, but I am 75 and when I answered the question I was sitting comfortably in my desk and very secure in my house on dry land. It’s easy to rage against cowardice, even in a time when chivalry no longer exists.