Stockdale Paradox: Confront the brutal facts, yet never lose faith

Posted: May 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

The Stockdale Paradox is a concept that was popularized by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. It was named after James Stockdale, former vice presidential candidate, naval officer and Vietnam prisoner of war. The main gist of the idea is that you need to balance realism with optimism.

If ever we needed to think in this manner, it is probably now!

Let me give you the context of this Stockdale Paradox first.

James Stockdale, former vice-presidential candidate, during the Vietnam War, was held captive as a prisoner of war for over seven years. He was one of the highest-ranking naval officers at the time.

During this horrific period, Stockdale was repeatedly tortured and had no reason to believe he’d make it out alive. Held in the clutches of the grim reality of his hell world, he found a way to stay alive by embracing both the harshness of his situation with a balance of healthy optimism.

Stockdale explained this idea as the following: “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.”

That is the concept of the Stockdale Paradox. Confront the brutal facts, but never lose faith!

The current situation we find ourselves in, demands that kind of thinking.

We cannot be pretending that “oh, this is nothing, and we will be out of this in no time”. That is clearly not the case.

We don’t have a vaccine. We have no particular confidence about how the virus won’t spread rapidly once lockdown is lifted or is normal life resumes. We know that this shows up also asymptomatically, and if one’s immune system is not strong enough, it can be fatal too.

All of these are realities. So let’s not pretend any other way.

So accepting these brutal facts, we need to do what we can to face up to the challenge. These could include:

1. Working to improve your own immune system

2. Being safe by avoiding too much external contact, as far as you can help

3. Following best practices of social distancing, using sanitisers, washing hands regularly etc.

Doing all of the above for one self, and one’s family, including seniors at home.

Besides that, as a consequence, there will be economic challenges. Again, one has to accept that brutal fact as well. An event of this nature, WILL take a toll. As Jack Ma put it, if you come out of 2020 alive, you are in profit! That may be about as brutal as you can go, in terms of accepting current situation!

So once you accept that, you work on your personal challenges. How do you hold cash for as long as you can? How do you secure your career? Are there new skills that will be required in the new normal that emerges, which you can get trained for? Etc.

So all of this is about accepting the brutal facts.

But often what ends up happening with such acceptance is that you get depressed! You start feeling like it’s the end of the world.

Over that seven years of being held as a prisoner of war, and being tortured constantly, if James Stockdale had felt that “this was it, I am not going to come out of this alive, I am never going back to America”, then he would have actually died!!

The accompanying belief to the acceptance of brutal facts, is the one that says, “never lose faith”.

So is also the case for us now.

We have to have this humungous faith in the abilities of humankind to survive challenges, of the scientists to be able to figure out a vaccine or any other solution, to the innate survival Instinct that we all have to come out of this safe and sound (maybe a little scarred, perhaps!), and most of all, at least the way I see it (atheists, please don’t mind!), is trust in God, to bring us out of all this. Think of this as a huge test that HE has thrown at us, one that we must pass with flying colours!

And we will!!

  1. Praashant Shukla says:

    Thanks for Truth and Facts.

  2. Praashant Shukla says:

    Thanks for Truth and Facts.

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