The Stockdale Paradox

The Stockdale Paradox is named for Jim Stockdale. It was described by Jim Collins in the business book “Good to Great” and it has tremendous relevance to how we approach Friedreich Ataxia.

Jim Stockdale was the highest ranking American naval officer captured in the Vietnam War. He was held captive for more than eight years and during that time he was mostly in solitary confinement, lights on 24 hours-a-day. Many times he was brutally tortured. He wrote of his ordeal in an autobiography but it’s a bleak story and as Collins tells it “Here I am, sitting in my warm and comfortable office… I know he gets out… If it feels depressing for me, how on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?

So he quizzed Stockdale on it when they met, and there are powerful lessons for us all in what Stockdale told him. The first became known as “The Stockdale Paradox”.

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.”

Collins continued:

Finally… I asked “Who didn’t make it out [of the North Vietnamese POW camp]”. “Oh, that’s easy” [Stockdale] said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said earlier.”

The optimists. Oh 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.

The Stockdale Paradox describes a very important lesson:

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.

FA it an awful diagnosis. It’s tough to live with. There are terrific scientists working to find treatments and a cure. One day they’ll get there, but none of us knows when that will be. We must do everything we can to support their work, but at the same time we must do everything we can to keep ourselves in the best physical and mental condition that we can so when something is found we’ll be able to get maximum benefit from it.

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