[FOUNTAIN]Key to success: Keep the faith but face realityAdmiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking U.S. officer in the notorious prisoner of war camp known as the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1973. Admiral Stockdale was placed in solitary confinement for four years without the rights of a prisoner of war, and was tortured over 20 times.
He not only endured for eight years without knowing when, or if, he would ever be freed, but he also helped many men survive without major injuries by encouraging and influencing them.
Admiral Stockdale was unsure of his destiny. When the future appeared so murky, how could he overcome his cruel environment and help other prisoners as well? He said the biggest driving force was “to keep the faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.”
But at the same time, he emphasized, it was necessary to “confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” The key to surviving the harsh environment was not to confuse faith with optimism. In the Hanoi Hilton, the optimists were the ones who suffered the most.
The optimists would say “We will be out by Christmas,” without any basis. Christmas would come and go, and then they would think “We will be out by Easter.” They would be continuously disappointed, eventually lose hope and perish.
Admiral Stockdale said that we can overcome difficulties only if we hold on to the positive faith that we will succeed in the end but face reality with resolve at the same time.
In his best-selling book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins pointed out that companies that had made the leap to being great shared a similar spirit. Those companies that went from good to great had faced the same adversity as mediocre companies, but had confronted the difficulties and used the opportunity to reinvent themselves.
But other companies resorted to optimism that the situation would improve naturally, and eventually failed to take the chance to become great.
Mr. Collins named the two-sided psychology the “Stockdale Paradox.” Directly confront a cruel situation but keep the faith that you will succeed in the end. This strategy applies not only to companies, but also to individuals. When the economy is sluggish and society is chaotic, we can all learn from the Stockdale Paradox.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.