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When Bad Things Happen To Good People

Updated on March 5, 2012

Introduction


James Stockdale was an Admiral and the highest-ranking military officer to be incarcerated at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict. Admiral Stockdale, like all who underwent that ordeal, experienced a nightmare of physical and psychological pain. From his experience, he came to the same conclusion as Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Second World War. In his book, Man's Search For Meaning, Frankl describes how he came to the realization that although his captors could take everything material and physical away from him (including the lives of his family), they could not take away his thoughts or his choices as to how he would respond to his circumstances. In Admiral Stockdale's case, he defined three different types of people incarcerated with him in prison, and what he observed about their attitudes and choices has since become known in military circles as the Stockdale Paradox. The three different types of people are the:

  1. Pessimists
  2. Optimists
  3. Realists

The pessimists saw the brutal facts of their situation and quit. They gave up. The optimists had unwavering faith but ignored the brutal facts. The realists saw and recognized the brutal facts but had faith they could be dealt with. The interesting thing about these three groups is that almost all of the first two groups died in the camps of Vietnam. The pessimists saw the circumstances they had to face and they chose misery and gave up. The optimists died because they had all this faith and positive outlook but were not willing to look at the brutal facts of their situation. They probably had the positive mental attitude that they would be home for Christmas and when they weren't rescued when Christmas came they were discouraged and gave up. I suspect their spirit could not handle the constant rejection and they gave up and died. The realists saw the brutal facts. They saw that pain was inevitable. They probably knew they were not going to be rescued for a long time. They realized that they had choices and options about the pain they must endure. They decided to stick together and say to each other, "you know what guys? We can do this."

What category do you fit in?

Are you like the pessimist? Do you see the brutal facts and give up? Or are you more like the optimist, ignoring the facts and pretending the bad stuff didn't happen? You may be like the realist, seeing the brutal facts and the pain but having the faith they can be dealt with. This is a valid question we should all try to answer before the moment of truth.

The law of cause and effect

The law of cause and effect says that an action or event will produce a certain response to the action in the form of another event. We cannot control what happens to us but we can control our response. The greatest gift we have ever received is our free agency, the power to choose how we act and feel. This is what the realists discovered according Admiral Stockdale. They had the survivor mentality and the fortitude to make the best out of a desperate situation.

My Friend Giusseppe:

Many years ago my friend Giuseppe came to visit me at my place of employment. It was on a Tuesday evening at approximately 9:30 when he arrived. I was surprised when he showed up because he always called ahead of time if he was planning on stopping by. Giusseppe announced that he was accepted into an elite mountain rescue school in Canada. I was so happy for him because he spoke of this dream often. He told me a little about the school and informed me that he was leaving immediately. He would be driving from the Bay Area (California) to Canada. He was smiling ear to ear because his dreams were finally coming true. I congratulated him and told him to send a postcard or call when he got there so I knew he had a safe journey. He promised he would and we shook hands and said our goodbye. On my way out that evening I left a message with the morning workers that Giuseppe stopped by. I shared all the good news with them and I knew they would be happy for him. Giusseppe used to work with us and we all knew him well. The next day I arrived at work at 1:00 pm, a half hour early. Two detectives from the Police Department were interviewing my manager in her office. She saw me and waived a gesture that I should join them. I was informed by one of the detectives that my friend was found hanging from a tree less than a mile from work. In the trash bin next to my building they found all his belongings, including a suicide note. I was shocked and devastated. They said I was probably the last person he spoke with before he took his life. I told the detective there must be some mistake. The guy I spoke with the night before was a happy guy. Heck, he was oozing happiness when I talked to him. The detective told me this is typical with some suicides. He said that once a person makes up their mind to end their life a huge weight is lifted from them. He told me that all their sadness seems to go away and that is why it is so hard for family and friends to detect a problem. For a long time I blamed myself for not seeing the signs.

Why am I telling you this?

The moral of this story is never give up, no matter how desperate the situation is. My friend gave up. I don't know what was going through his mind but it could not have been worse than James Stockdale or Viktor Frankl. My friend was in so much pain that he could not see through the clouds. He did not pause and remember that there were other choices for him. This is a lesson for all of us. There is always a way out. Be a realist and know that eventually things will change for the better. They always do.


What works for me when things are going bad

When bad things are happening in my life there is one thing I do that always helps. I find a quiet place to go and sit. I spend however long it takes to find total silence. I close my eyes and focus only on my breathing. I become aware of my breathing and only my breathing through laser like focus. The result I am trying to achieve is a state of inner harmony. A state of peace and tranquility. The mind is so busy all the time with thoughts constantly coming and going. I have learned to quiet my mind, to literally shut it off. I call this entering into the silence. When I reach this state of mind I am able to feel at perfect peace. I am able to think clearly. I always seem to get the answers to my problems when I do this exercise. The trick is to slow way down and quiet your mind. I encourage you to leave a comment on what works for you when things are going bad in your life.

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    • ElizaDoole profile image

      Lisa McKnight 5 years ago from London

      I really liked this hub. I identify with realists, being someone who was faced with a situation where pain seemed long and there was no way to avoid it. What I do to help is something I have always done. I go to nature. Whether it be a walk through a quiet wood, a swim, or if pressed, a shower, I need to feel earth around me. It is so much bigger than me and I am glad to be alive in those moments, and I remember how that feels.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thank you for commenting ElizaDoole. I also identify with realists through experience, like yourself. Pain is inevitable, however, misery is optional. Thanks for stopping by.

    • SMD2012 profile image

      Sally Hayes 5 years ago

      I agree with you, Frankl and Stockdale. But these days it's hard to challenge the Optimists movement: there is a lot of money to be made by convincing people that positive thinking will get them every thing they want (ie. The Secret). But acceptance and being present in every single moment of our lives is the only way be can live through the good and the bad. This was a very well-written and thoughtful Hub. Thanks for sharing. Voted Up, useful, beautiful and shared. - Sarah

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hi Sarah. You are right about a lot of money being made by convincing people that positive thinking will get them everything they want. I believe it is over a million dollar industry. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Have a great evening.

    • KevinC9998 profile image

      KevinC9998 5 years ago

      Great hub, thank you for sharing this story. Voted up, Kevin

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thanks Kevin. I appreciate the comment.

    • profile image

      jenubouka 5 years ago

      To loss of your friend, James my sympathies and thoughts are with you...To the rest of this inspiring hub, wonderful and enlightening. Such a great way to collect one's inner thoughts as you described, will have to try this..My tactic is usually stubbornness, I will not let my bitter side over come my positive side, in the end. It is quite difficult at times, won't deny that, but as you stated, to just breath and take a step back, is rejuvenating.

    • gregas profile image

      Greg Schweizer 5 years ago from Corona, California.

      HiJames,Great hub. These days a lot of people need encouragement. I wrote a hub about the question " Is the glass half full or half empty?". I was really surprised at how many answers I received of the "half empty". Personally, my answer has always been, my whole life, was a question, " where was the contents of the glass to begin with?". I guess that would make me a realist. I always have considered myself a romantic/realist. I know, some people say that is contradictory. But that's me.

      As for what I do, I try to clear my head and when I have alone time, I like to write. I like to write down all of those crazy thoughts that are running through my head, then I can sort them out. A couple are turning into books, some become hubs to share with my fellow hubbers and others I set aside for another time.

      Sorry I made this so long. Once I start it's hard to stop. Greg

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      I am also sorry for the loss of your friend James, my thoughts and prays are with you.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hi jenubouka. Thank you for such a nice comment. I have to admit, sometimes I use stubbornness as a tactic and eventually it all works out. Thanks for stopping by.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Great comment Greg. I like your idea about writing down all the crazy thoughts and putting them toward great writing. I am going to try that.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hi Michele. Thank you so much for stopping by. It was a long time ago. I just wish he would have said something. I guarantee I could have helped him out. Take care and have a great day!

    • IZ7LJM profile image

      IZ7LJM 5 years ago from Galatone ( Lecce) Italia

      Mi dispiace molto per James, speriamo che quanto prima ci sia piu' giustizia a questo momdo e non ciano piu' guerre.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      I am sure this is a great comment IZ7LJM. Could you please translate in English? I have no idea what I just approved.

    • IZ7LJM profile image

      IZ7LJM 5 years ago from Galatone ( Lecce) Italia

      I am sorry a lot for James, we hope that there is as soon as possible more' justice to this world and there is not more' wars.

    • IZ7LJM profile image

      IZ7LJM 5 years ago from Galatone ( Lecce) Italia

      Please my comment in english mr James. Many Thnaks

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Thank you so much for the translation IZ7LJM. I agree with you about not wanting any more wars. Hey, your new here. I would like to welcome you to HubPages. I think you will find a great and supportive community here. I cannot wait to read your hubs. Have a great day.

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 5 years ago from Space Coast

      This was poignant to me. I come from a Military family and know POW's and families who suffered fatalities. Sometimes I feel guilt for not following the military path. It is too late for that, but it is not too late to learn a lesson and keep on plugging.

      I found this inspirational. I need to get to work!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      Wow, I can only imagine the shock of hearing the news about your friend. When I was in fourth grade, I lost a good friend through suicide (yes, he was only ten). And it was a very similar story: happy kid, smiling always, cheerful attitude, all a cover. Yes, there are other options to this and I hope your hub reaches many who need to hear this. Voted up!

    • JamesPoppell profile image
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      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hi teaches12345. Losing someone your close to is always hard. Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate you stopping by.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hello WD Curry. I also come from a military family where the pain of war, past and present, has not been kind to our flock. Like you, I did not follow in the same footsteps. I know what that guilt feels like but I subscribe to your line of thought when you wisely pointed out that it is not too late to learn a lesson and keep on plugging. Thanks for your encouraging words.

    • Sparklea profile image

      Sparklea 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Wow, James, I am sure it was difficult to share your story. My sincere condolences for your loss. My twin sister lost her husband to a suicide, it was an awful time, so I not only feel compassion and sympathy for the loss of your friend, I can also empathize to a point in knowing how you feel. A terrible shock for you, especially since you saw him the night before and he appeared so happy. I also own Victor Frankl's book, and I have read several books written by survivors of the Holocaust. No words can describe what they went through. I am German (maiden name Nagle), and I've been trying to figure out how so many people could unite and be so awful. The title of your hub brought all of this to mind. I also own the book titled "When Bad Things Happen To Good People." All of this being said, I voted up, useful, interesting and awesome. What a great hub written from your heart! I love your suggestion of going to a quiet place to sit. My sis does this every morning. She lives by a river, sits on the river bank and says, "Here I am God." She listens. We should all quiet our minds. The chatterboxes in our head can be so distracting. THANK YOU for this very enlightening Hub and for your thoughts and suggestions. Blessings always, Sparklea :)

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Sparklea, thank you for such a wonderful and thoughtful comment. I also have a lot of German blood. My mothers maiden name is Eggers. We are having trouble tracing our family line on the other side of the pond (ocean). There are so many variations of that name and it has proven to be quite a chore. It was with a heavy heart that I read Viktor Frankls book. He showed us just how tough and durable the human spirit is. Thank you for sharing your family experience with your brother in law. That must have been a difficult time. Thanks again for stopping by and have a great day.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      When I'm down, I pray. That works for me. Or, I write. I may just delete what I wrote, but I find it helps. Good Hub.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 5 years ago from California

      Had several people in my life commit suicide. O the sadness. If only those who are experiencing great sadness could realize that if they hang on circumstances will change. Blessing

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      Hi mary615. Prayer really works for me and I really believe it will work for all people if they have a little faith and try it. Writing is also a great outlet. Thank you so much for your comment.

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 5 years ago

      tirelesstraveler, you are so correct. I have had more than one friend commit suicide and I know of two people that attempted suicide. Both of the suicide attempts expressed gratitude for their second chance at life. It took some time but their circumstances did change for the better as you have stated here. Thank you for such a thought provoking comment. Have a great day.

    • CMerritt profile image

      Chris Merritt 4 years ago from Pendleton, Indiana

      Hi James, for some reason I just ran across this one, and I know its late, but I am very sorry to hear this about your friend.

      This is a very touching and interesting hub, and I appreciate you passing it on.

      Chris

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 4 years ago

      Thank you for taking the time to comment Chris. It is never to late to pass along words of comfort.

    • profile image

      buildyourhouses 4 years ago from UK

      "I find a quiet place to go and sit. I spend however long it takes to find total silence" I feellike somebodyis reading my mind..

    • JamesPoppell profile image
      Author

      JamesPoppell 4 years ago

      Hello buildyourhouses, and thank you for commenting. This works for me also. Sometimes it takes a long time but the wait is worth it. It is empowering in any situation when total silence of the mind is achieved. Have a great day.

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