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A Corona lesson from a Vietnam POW

Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

They call it the "Stockdale Paradox" and, in my opinion, it can help us immensely these days. James Stockdale was an American pilot during the Vietnam War. His plane was shot down, he was taken prisoner, and he then survived more than seven years of torture. How? "I never lost hope that my period of captivity would end. I knew not only that I would eventually be freed, but that I would transform the entire experience into a turning point in my life that I would not be prepared to exchange for any other experience."

And what was the mindset of all those who died in prison, who did not survive? This is what Stockdale said about them: "These were the optimists. They said 'we will be out of here by Christmas,' and afterwards, 'If not by Christmas, then by Easter, and then 'immediately after Thanksgiving.' But all these holidays passed, and in the end they could not bear all the disappointments and died of a broken heart. I learned that 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."

This message is crucial in many areas of ife, but especially vital now during the time of the corona: optimism is important, but over optimism in immediate relief is dangerous. Whoever thought this would be over after the first lockdown during Pesach might have suffered a breakdown when the corona did not go away. Whoever sees the arrival of the vaccines today as the end of the pandemic might not follow the guidelines and become sick. Whoever thinks every day that this will be over tomorrow will not have the patience to finish the marathon that the whole world is running. The time is right to be a Stockdale.


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