Genesis 39:19-23

Stockdale Paradox: Never Lose


Genesis 39:19-23 now when his master heard the words of his wife which she spoke to him, saying this is what your slave did to me his anger burned so Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail the place where the king’s prisoners were confined and he was there in the jail but the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer the chief jailer committed to Joseph’s charge all the prisoners who were in the jail so that whatever was done there he was responsible for it the chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the LORD was with him and whatever he did the LORD made to prosper Joseph was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife she lied about him Potiphar was obliged to believe his wife put Joseph in prison completely falsely he didn’t belong there shouldn’t have been there and Joseph experienced set back after set back after set back how do you deal with that how do you deal with the discouragement of yet another injustice another set back I don’t know if anything like that has ever happened to you I ran across something something called the Stockdale paradox it’s a powerful psychological duality that every person in a difficult situation needs to learn to understand and walk in I got it from a book called From Good to Great by Jim Collins this is page 83 through 86 and I’d like to read you this little section called the Stockdale paradox you may need this today if you dont’ you may need it at a time in the future but this is what everyone of us need to learn and understand when we’re going through a very difficult time Jim Collins wrote this in every case the management team this is of companies that he studied responded with a powerful psychological duality on the one hand they stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality but on the other hand they maintained an unwavering faith in the end game a commitment to prevail as a great company to spite the brutal facts in other words we’re failing today nothing is working but we’re absolutely convinced we will prevail how do you deal with nothing working today and yet hold hope that you will prevail in the end we came to call this duality the Stockdale paradox the name refers to Admiral James Stockdale who is the highest ranking U.S. military officer in the Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp during the height of the Vietnam war tortured over 20 times during his 8 year imprisonment from 1965-1973 Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights no set release date no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again Jim Collins the author of the book was was to spend an afternoon with Stockdale and in preparation he had read Stockdale’s book in love and war and this is what Jim Collins said as I moved through the book I found myself getting depressed it just seemed so bleak the uncertainty of his fate the brutality of his captors and so forth and then it dawned on me here I am sitting in my warm and comfortable office looking out over the beautiful Stanford campus on a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I’m getting depressed reading this and I know the end of the story I know that he gets out he reunites with his family becomes a national hero and gets to spend the latter years of his life studying philosophy on this same beautiful campus if it feels depressing for me how on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story how do you deal with discouragement and a horrible situation what do you do if your spouse leaves you what do you do if a business goes out of business what do you do if somebody steals everything from you here’s what he said I never lost faith in the end of the story he said when I asked him I never doubted not only that I would get out but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life which in retrospect I would not trade Collins said I didn’t say anything for many minutes we continued the slow walk toward the faculty club Stockdale limping and arc swinging his stiff leg that has never fully recovered from repeated torture finally after about 100 meters of silence I asked so who didn’t make it out oh that’s easy he said the optimists the optimists? I don’t understand I said now completely confused given what he’d said 100 meters earlier yeah the optimists ohhh they were the ones who said we’re going to be out by Christmas Christmas would come and go they’d say we’re going to be out by Easter Easter would come and go and then Thanksgiving and then it would be Christmas again and they died of a broken heart I’ve seen many people in a separated marriage believe in God for the healing restoration of their marriage do this very thing and die of a broken heart or lose hope because of a broken heart just listen to the key here another long pause and more walking then he turned to me and said 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 to this day I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists we’re not going to get out by Christmas so deal with it that conversation with Admiral Stockdale stayed with me and in fact had a profound influence on my own development life is unfair sometimes to our advantage sometimes to our disadvantage we will all experience disappointments and crushing events somewhere along the way set backs for which there’s no reason and no one to blame it might be disease it might be injury it might be an accident it might be losing a loved one it might be getting swept away in a political shake up it might be getting shot down over Vietnam and thrown into P.O.W camp for 8 years what separates people Stockdale taught me is not the presence or absence of difficulty but how they deal with the inevitable difficulties of life in wrestling with life’s challenges the Stockdale paradox which is you must retain faith that you will prevail in the end and you must also confront the most brutal facts of your current realty this paradox has proved powerful for coming back from difficulties not weakened but stronger not just for me but for all those who have learned the lesson and tried to apply it this is a critical thing to understand you never lose faith in the end that God has a story yet unwritten in your life but yet at the same time you must deal with the harsh reality of your current circumstances not walk around in denial and pretend it doesn’t exist but never lose faith that you will prevail in the end because God has plan for you I hope that helped you as much as it did me when I’ve gone through difficult times that looked very bleak I’ve remembered this never lose faith in the end game in the fact that your story is yet unwritten God has a plan for you that has not yet manifest we’re to call things that be not as though they were not yet manifest but things that have been written in heaven released into your future that aren’t manifest yet but yet at the same time not walk around in denial of the current present reality of our circumstance as you walk through life remember never lose hope that God has written a story that is yet for your benefit but yet there are difficult things we may need to deal with in our present reality in our present circumstance and as you walk though life today always remember to access the grace of God love God with all your heart bless people around you even in a difficult circumstance you’ll change the environment you’ll change the atmosphere and you will make a difference


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