[Column] Stockdale Paradox

Stockdale Paradox

Written By Rev.Dr. Joshua Hong

Senior Pastor of Full Gospel Church of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.

There is a term “Stockdale paradox” in Jim Collins’s book <Good to Great>. During the Vietnam War, U.S. army general Stockdale was captured and served eight years as a P.O.W  under tremendous torture. Later, however, he along with other P.O.Ws were released and returned home. General Stockdale shares that those who survived in the prison camp were not unconditional optimists but optimistic realists.

According to him, optimists are greatly discouraged when their vain hope of “being freed and returning home for Christmas” fails to be realized as Christmas approaches. Again, they keep their hopes up imagining there freedom and returning home for Easter only to be discouraged yet again. As they repeat this vicious cycle of expectation and disappointment, they lose even the slightest degree of hope altogether. However, realists having realized the unlikelihood of their freedom endure disappointments without agitation when Christmas comes.

The lesson of Stockdale Paradox is that in adverse circumstances one must maintain positive outlooks on life but at the same time he must come to terms with his harsh reality. In other words, striking the perfect balance between dream and reality while maintaining perseverance is the key. Expectation and hope detached from reality is sure to maximize discouragement.

The same goes for the transformation of life and realization of dreams. You must properly examine your present self, embrace what you must embrace, improve upon weaknesses, and proceed with your visions. Mere dreams devoid of diagnosis and improvement of existing conditions are useless. A colonel prayed at church every morning, “God. Make me a one star-rank officer.” He merely prayed for his promotion. When he was not promoted, he stopped praying altogether. Examining one’s spiritual state and improving upon it are more important than promotion. The transformation of one’s life is more essential than promotion. We must first place the purpose of life and ultimate hope in Christ and pray.

The same goes for church as well. Rather than merely fix on the abstract idea of church growth, it must focus on improving its weaknesses and seek renewal with godly wisdom and strategy. Church’s visions for the future are the results of the proper diagnosis of its reality. We must strive toward transforming reality and look ahead undistracted to God-given visions and objectives. Striking the perfect balance between the present and the future is the skill required by all leaders.

Live the present life at its best, remember that your future depends on God, and pray. Living the best life and faithful prayer will yield miracles. The path of revolution and life will lie ahead of you.

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