“The big things of life are never done by a fussy man. Poise is one of the earmarks of mental strength” (Preston Nolan).
POISE IS NOT A QUALITY MANY PEOPLE PURSUE NOWADAYS, BUT WE WOULD DO WELL TO APPRECIATE ITS VALUE. It sounds like something from the Victorian Age, and these days, being Victorian is not very high on anybody’s agenda. But let’s not be too quick to poke fun at or write off a character quality like poise.
In its most literal sense, poise has to do with “balance.” If, for example, a basketball is “poised” on someone’s index finger, it is in a state of balance or equilibrium. As a character trait, then, poise means that a person’s thinking is stable and not thrown “off-balance” by awkward or stressful circumstances. We often describe the poised person as “assured” or “composed.” By contrast, the person without poise is unsure, unstable, and unhelpful; he tends to panic and “lose his cool.”
In one of his poems, James Russell Lowell wrote, “Ah, men do not know how much strength is in poise / That he goes farthest who goes far enough.” There is indeed some strength in poise, and we would do well to acquire it. Many good things come from the ability to keep a “level head” when difficult situations arise and hard decisions have to be made. It is poise that tells us how many steps are enough — and when taking even one more would lead to imbalance.
We live in stressful times, to say the least. As the rate of change increases exponentially, we can never be sure how long anything around us is going to stay the same. In this kind of environment, nearly every day generates some new crisis that threatens to throw us off-balance. Do we have enough poise to survive life as it now is?
Troubled times call for strong leadership, whether in nations, communities, or families. And so if you are in any kind of leadership position — if there is even one person who is under your influence — then you need to work on increasing your poise. That doesn’t mean being uptight, obsessive, or compulsive, nor does it mean never being excited or passionate. It means knowing how to keep your balance.
“The ability to keep a cool head in an emergency, to maintain poise in the midst of excitement, and to refuse to be stampeded are true marks of leadership” (R. Shannon).