James Stockdale was a US Navy Admiral who survived captivity after being taken prisoner during the Vietnam War and enduring over 7 years of tortures and extremely poor conditions. After being liberated he wrote numerous books about his experience and what helped him, balancing the reality he was in with his final aim which was survival. As the economies start reopening again, how his learning can help us navigate through today’s uncertainties?
Stockdale endured difficulties during the 7 and half years of captivity and saw many optimists perish during the same period of time. In his view his experience was an important lesson on how optimisms should not be confused with realism. Many other prisoners confused the harsh reality of the poor conditions they were in, with the optimistic view of being liberated any time soon. They kept thinking that they would be out by Christmas and when Christmas came, they thought they would be out by Easter, only to be disappointed again. When the same repeated itself a number of times, they lost faith in being rescued and gave up altogether. Stockdale instead never lost contact with reality but kept an uncompromising faith that there would be a positive outcome waiting for him at the end. He kept going despite the terrible conditions of the prison’s camp, thinking the final outcome would eventually prevail.