I had written a review of “Man’s search for meaning” last week. My friend and CKO of my company, Sukumar had commented that I should look up The Stockdale Paradox. It is named after Admiral, Jim Stockdale who was imprisoned in Vietnam. He was tortured for 8 years before he was released. How did he survive for 8 years when many of his fellow prisoners died within a few months?
Stockdale says ““I never lost faith. 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.” Strangely the people who did not survive were the optimist, those who thought they will be released by Christmas and when it did not happen they died of a broken heart. This is very close to Frankl’s experience too. He says the death rate increased close to Christmas because people who believed they would be spending it with their family, died of disappointment.
Stockdale says, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (source)
Frankl and Stockdale were really great people who could resolve such paradoxes in life-threatening and desperate situations. But what about us ordinary people? Don’t we face paradoxes in our lives?
I want to teach my son that he should strive to be the best in his class. The desire to be on the top of his class would drive him to work hard and bring out his full potential. At the same time, I want him to understand that winning is not everything. If he doesn’t, he will be constantly disappointed and he will not be able to make friends with people who are more talented and better than him. Every time he participates in a competition I struggle to get this point across. “You have to do your best, you have to keep improving but winning is not everything.”
Don’t we face a similar paradox in office too. We have to work as a team but we are also competing with our peers for appraisals and promotions.
Would love to know how you deal with such paradoxes?