One of my favorite writers in the business world is Jim Collins. In his book Good to Great he defines principles that make some companies great companies over a long period of time. A lot of the focus is on the leaders of these companies. His in depth research found many traits these leaders have in common. One of these traits is related to what he called “The Stockdale Paradox.” In his words, this principle involves “Maintaining unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (These and other concepts may be found at www.jimcollins.com.)
Stockdale is Rear Admiral James Stockdale who was the highest ranking military person to spend time in a POW camp during the Vietnam War. Stockdale spent eight years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, living in shackles. He was tortured repeatedly. His only communication was a code system of taps he used to communicate with the prisoners next to him. The prisoners had a network of communication which sustained them through this brutal time. Stockdale sites this social network as being crucial to his survival.
When Collins asked who didn’t survive the grueling ordeal of years in prison in Vietnam, Stockdale responded: “The optimists. 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.” This wishful thinking didn’t change the reality of the situation.
I was thinking about this principle yesterday. I have certainly embraced the brutal reality that I have a very dangerous disease, and that there is no absolute guarantee that the treatments will work (though my kind of cancer has much better success rates than many others). It is so easy to fall into wishful thinking, like maybe I can go fishing Saturday. I’m going to try and go fishing, but I may not be up to it! That is reality.
I absolutely believe God is in control of this thing. I can plead, bargain, and try to make a deal with God. But ultimately it is His will not mine. Having said that, God also loves me and knows what is best for me. I’m good with that.
Meanwhile, I will push forward every day knowing the treatments will come to an end. It is not wishful thinking to truly believe everything will be OK in the end. There are a lot of people a whole lot worse off than me – I meet them all the time at the treatment centers. My little problems seem small compared to what some people have gone through.
Trivia Question: What else happened in Stockdale’s life that made him somewhat famous?