The Stockdale Paradox by Will Wilkinson
I first learned about The Stockdale Paradox from Jim Collins book, Good to Great. Here’s the short formula: You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time… You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
The Stockdale Paradox is explained this way on a post from author Niall Doherty: “The Stockdale Paradox is named after admiral Jim Stockdale, who was a United States military officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. Stockdale was tortured more than twenty times by his captors, and never had much reason to believe he would survive the prison camp and someday get to see his wife again. And yet, as Stockdale told Collins, he never lost faith during his ordeal: ‘I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.’
“Then comes the paradox: While Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable, he noted that it was always the most optimistic of his prisonmates who failed to make it out of there alive. ‘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.’
“What the optimists failed to do was confront the reality of their situation. They preferred the ostrich approach, sticking their heads in the sand and hoping for the difficulties to go away. That self-delusion might have made it easier on them in the short-term, but when they were eventually forced to face reality, it had become too much and they couldn’t handle it.”
We can certainly apply The Stockdale Paradox to challenges in our lives and also to our global predicament. How do we really feel about them? Do we actually have faith in how things will turn out, a faith that will be powerful and steady enough to sustain us through who knows what kinds of troubled waters? And, simultaneously, are we willing and able to confront the brutal facts of these situations, to really face facts, no matter how disturbing they may be?
Many people are giving up and some of them have been optimists for decades. But now the negative evidence has mounted to such an extent that it seems, to them at least, foolhardy to keep on hoping. The Stockdale Paradox is about more than hope. It’s a formula for success. It is not denial and it is not cynicism. It is a balance between what we want and what we have.
Robert Fritz called this “structural tension” in his landmark book, The Path of Least Resistance. He wrote that we need to learn how to hold both poles, the positive and the negative, BUT that our orientation must be in the positive. That way, we literally “pull” our current reality towards our vision.
There’s a fresh new formula for peace! Vision peace, build faith in the outcome, refusing to believe we won’t prevail AND acknowledge fully the many challenges that face us. Here’s something we can practice many times every day to build our peacemaker muscles!
Referenced from http://www.ndoherty.com/stockdale-paradox/
Will Wilkinson is a local author, filmmaker and director of a Happiness campaign.