Stockdale paradox

I do love a good story, and I have a real soft spot for books and films that are based on a true stories. In my last post I wrote about resilience and told you that I have been asked to write a session on the topic. I do not like it when I don’t feel like I know my stuff and I might even sometimes be guilty of overpreparing, if there is such a thing. Because I do also enjoy learning, and so I have continued my research into all things resilience. Through recommendation I have been reading about a high ranking US military officer called James Stockdale, and something called the Stockdale paradox (talked about in Jim Collins Book From Good To Great).

For 8 years during the Vietnam war, Admiral James Stockdale was imprisoned and tortured. You can find a few books out there where he tells his story, books like In Love and War, Courage under fire and Thoughts of a philosophical fighter pilot. Better to hear his story first hand then to have it be retold by me.

But there is one thing I would like to share with you.

Talking about his experience and fellow prisoners, Admiral James was asked ‘who didn’t make it out’? His answer to this came quickly, ‘That’s easy -the optimist! They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

He goes on to say ‘You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.’

This is known as the Stockdale paradox. And I for one have been thinking about this a lot, so I thought I would share it with you!

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