Jim Stockdale was an American Vice Admiral in the USN, captured and imprisoned during the Vietnam War. He was held and tortured for seven years. Stockdale’s profound observations about resilience can help get you through 2021 and beyond.
Admiral James Bond Stockdale was the highest-ranking military officer in the Hanoi Hilton. He was there from 1968 to 1974. He was tortured over twenty times. And by his own account, Stockdale came out of the prison camp even stronger than he went in.
Stockdale’s captors could come in any day and torture him. He had no sense of whether, or if, he would ever get out of the prison camp. Absolutely depressing situation. It’s like we can all survive anything as long as we know it will come to an end, we know when, and we have a sense of control. He had none of that.
Sounds quite similar to a pandemic.
Many experts believe that the resilience that we developed and summoned up to cope with the stressors and ever changing landscape of 2020 will need to be leveraged again in 2021. Resilience will need to carry us through the “long tail” of the pandemic in terms of stress, financial losses, anxiety, depression and stressed families and social systems.
How did Stockdale not let those oppressive circumstances beat him down? How did he not get depressed?
Jim Collins relates this response in a conversation he had with Stockdale,
“Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail—get out of this—but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person.”
Surprisingly, Stockdale said the first people to die in captivity were the optimists, who kept thinking things would get better quickly and they’d be released.
Your Job In A Crisis
“They died of a broken heart,” Stockdale said.
Instead, Stockdale argued, the key to survival was to combine realism and hope. In Stockdale’s words:
“This is a very important lesson. 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 essentially is your job in crisis. Those who survive and thrive in crisis confront the brutal facts but never lose hope.
Truth + Hope = Resilience
Stockdale spent many pre-war years of studying philosophy. He was familiar with the writings of stoics like Epictetus’ Enchiridion and with the Bible. Job was his book of context. More on that in Stockdale’s engaging Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot.
For you and I facing the roller coaster effects of the COVID pandemic, resilience will be the indispensable quality to keep from throwing up or throwing in the towel.
That’s why RESILIENCE is my word for 2021.
No New Year’s resolutions. Just one word. A word that I will bring to mind relentlessly through the coming year. And when I do, the word will be reminder to pray, embrace truth and hope, and gratefully serve God with grace and love.
You have resilience. It’s in you to live.
The key part of resilience isn’t about bouncing back, it’s about bouncing forward. It’s about using adversity as a catalyst to get better and become stronger.
Happy New Year! Please leave a comment about your resilience and share this post on your Facebook and Twitter using the buttons at the bottom of this post. Thank you.
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