When Bad Things Happen To Good People
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:
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.