Psyche & Spirit Archives
brief articles for busy clergy

The Stockdale Paradox
Fred Devett
Dec. 31, 2002

Admiral James Stockdale was shot down in Viet Nam and imprisoned in the "Hanoi Hilton" for almost eight years.  He was also its highest-ranking officer. He writes about his experience in his book, In Love and War. How did he survive while others did not? "Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties." He adds, however, what distinguishes his position from simple "optimism" - and formulates what has become known as the Stockdale Paradox: "and confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."                


This is the critical difference which guards against the endless disappointment that optimismís carrots' evasiveness create - until, maybe, the reward in the end. On the other hand, an ability to continue making realistic assessments of one's current life situation measures and apportions oneís energies and reserves to better face each challenge as it comes, thus positioning one with a stronger chance to prevail.


The Stockdale Paradox has been given its name and is finding new limelight in James Collinsí book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... And Others Don'tí' (a book which itself deserves some attention). The Paradox has merit and invites reflection for troubled times, struggling congregations, and difficult life-decisions. 












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