Beck was not a physically imposing man. He was, however, a WWII paratrooper and had been recruited to Ford Motors as one of the so-called Whiz Kids. He had depth and courage. He absorbed the story and our recommendation, asked some questions—I think more to test my conviction more than anything. Then he said, “Go ahead.” Just that.

He reported the nervy step to the Prudential Board promptly afterward and, blessedly, within a few weeks the now-larger positions had rebounded, the loss eradicated and more. Wyser-Pratte closed out the portfolio at a handsome profit to The Prudential.

The outcome was a delight—and no doubt saved my job. It was a testament to the discipline of both Wyser-Pratte and Beck. The primary factor wasn’t their military training factor. It was their ability to focus on the task rather than being diverted by the hubris of the moment. Their self discipline, their concentration on directing what was within their control made them winners. They were not the chicken littles of the world.

There is little outward similarity between a presidential heart attack and a crash caused by program trading. Each was a one-day occurrence and impacted investments and wealth only. A pandemic like the coronavirus is vastly more complicated. It attacks health, has a much longer and indefinite time horizon and destroys jobs as well. However, how best to deal with panic is identical: impact what you can, control that within your purview, ignore the emotional sinkhole suffocating those around you. Use what you know and adapt to meet the new circumstances.

Many investors today are reacting to headlines—most of them meaning nothing—and are making ill-founded, even unfounded, decisions. They are deviating from well-considered plans. To be sure, emotion is a hugely powerful influence. A nationwide, worldwide pandemic, at the least whelms all of us. We need to prevent it overwhelming us. By focusing on what we can impact or control, we have the power to adapt to today’s challenges.

George Ball is chief executive officer of Sanders Morris Harris.

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