The Stockdale Paradox

Today I want to explore an interesting concept; hope versus optimism. Admiral James Stockdale was held prisoner and tortured during the Vietnam war. He was later awarded the Medal of honour. He was a Prisoner of War for over seven years. This is our Monday story of hope.

James C. Collins related a conversation he had with Stockdale regarding his coping strategy during his period in the Vietnamese POW camp.[21][non-primary source needed] When Collins asked which prisoners didn’t make it out of Vietnam, Stockdale replied:

Oh, that’s easy, 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. This is a very important lesson. 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.


I think this is a hugely important lesson for us all. James Stockdale’s legacy is to highlight the importance of hope, which comprises faith to prevail in the end along with discipline to confront the pain of the current reality we face head on. Suffering is suffering and optimism is what I would describe as false hope. Optimism almost negates suffering, because it hangs its hat on something happening and when it doesn’t, there is no coping mechanism. The paradox of life is to grit your teeth and find hope to persevere despite the pain you may be going through.

Today’s recipe of hope is to consider whether you are holding onto optimism or hope. If it is optimism, then you may wish to rethink. And if you are holding onto hope in the face of immense pain today, then keep going. Just take each day at a time. Sometimes life is very very tough. But hope is a comfort for us all.

May you know true enduring hope, whatever your situation X

References (accessed 31/08/2020).


  1. This post is spot on Melody. Having the sheer bloody mindedness to keep going through adversity takes a great deal of mental strength.
    The people who do are the tough ones, both mentally and emotionally.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

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