James Stockdale was the highest ranking naval officer held as a Prisoner Of War in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. He was held for eight years and tortured over 20 times. He had no rights, no release date and absolutely no certainty whether he would ever see his family again.
As the highest ranking officer, he bore the responsibility to create conditions within the POW constraints in the camp - to increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken.
As you’ve read in one of my other blog articles about Stockdale (Optimism is not enough - Add a layer of ACTION.):
Simply being optimistic that the war would end and that they would be released, was not enough. Those pure optimists had such a strong belief that the war would end soon, that when it didn't … they were not released … they were psychologically broken. They died with a broken spirit.
Stockdale was different.
Whilst he still maintained this unwavering belief that he would be released one day, for now he set rules to help the prisoners deal with the brutal facts of their POW reality. These rules created a framework that enabled surviving.
He dealt with the torture.
There were distinct milestones set, that after a certain time of torture they could say certain bits of information. No one could get tortured forever and remain unbroken. By having something to aim for to “hold out” for … this maintained their psychological health throughout the torture sessions.
He dealt with the sense of isolation the captors were trying to create.
They communicated with each other using a matrix of tap codes. This maintained a sense of community that they were “all in it together” and enabled information to be transferred amongst the POW’s.
The Stockdale Paradox is the duality of having both unwavering faith AND dealing with the facts of your reality. It was coined in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
The author continues to explain that we all face unpleasant situations in our lives … usually that we never saw coming. It is important that you maintain this unwavering faith that you will get through it, but it's not enough by itself. You must also find a way to deal with the difficulties that crop up as a result of your situation.
Find a solution for each and every difficult aspect of your unpleasant current situation, right now.
Deal with it … Piece by Piece.