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The Case For Extreme Optimism

The Case For Extreme Optimism

Hello and good day!

Have you heard of an author named James Stockdale? He was a naval officer who was captured and held hostage by the Vietcong in the "Hanoi Hilton" for seven and a half years. During that time, he was beaten and tortured regularly.

Yet, he survived and made it home.

Back in the United States, Stockdale began to write books about his experience, and he started teaching classes for the military about how to mentally endure imprisonment and torture.

From his teaching emerged a concept called the Stockdale Paradox. This concept describes the mindset that a person must maintain if they are to make it through extreme hardship.

On the one hand, you must face the hard truth of your situation. You are not allowed to lie to yourself. Stockdale said that the soldiers most likely to have a mental breakdown were the ones who told themselves impossible lies.

Those who believed they'd be home for Christmas were inevitably crushed when Christmas came and went, and they were still in a Vietnamese torture camp.

You have to be brutally honest with yourself no matter how hard that can be. On the other hand, you must maintain an unwavering belief that you can and will be victorious in the end.

That is the paradox. Ugly truth and unshakeable optimism at the same time.

Another author who writes along the same lines is Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search For Meaning, an all-time great book. Frankl was a Jewish psychotherapist who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for most of World War 2.

Prior to being imprisoned, he had developed a theory of mental health that was purpose based, called logotherapy. The idea behind logotherapy was that therapists should cure mental health by helping patients develop meaning and purpose in their lives, something to live for.

Living in concentration camps, Frankl decided that he would use his suffering as a testing ground for his theory. He realized that he could be killed at any time and for any reason. Part of his survival would be based on pure luck.

However, many prisoners died from despair.

One night they'd be lying in bed staring up at the ceiling and Frankl could see the life drifting out of them because they did not want to live anymore. They couldn't handle how hard their life had become.

But Frankl deeply wanted to make it through so that he could teach his methodology. And if the methodology worked so well that he could maintain his mental health even in the direst conditions, all the more reason to survive so that he could teach and help as many people as possible.

He made it out and wrote a book that sold tens of millions of copies. His belief in the future was justified.

For five years, we had to send a gunman with every shipment of our cacao. He sat in the front seat with a rifle so that potential truck robbers would see and know that the truck was armed. The road out of campo has several long and winding turns that come blindly around tall jungle mountains.

It was easy for truck robbers to stand on the other side of a blind turn and catch drivers by surprise. If the truck was unarmed, all that was left was to point a gun at the driver and tell him to get out. Just like that, a truck thief could drive away with a full load.

As you drive along that road, you see the most breathtaking jungle landscape you've ever seen. Bright green trees. Thick irrigation canals cutting through crop dense farms. Tree covered mountains running to the horizon and beyond. There are little villages on the side of the road as you drive along.

If you turn off the main road and head through the bush, you can come to rustic town squares surrounded by trees and jungle in every direction. Some of these towns are nasty little places where drunkenness and violence thrive.

Like any place, it is cultural. Some of the villages value productivity and hard work and raising families. Some value vices. Truck thieves flock to these hamlets and they get worse and worse over time as gangs form and momentum makes the inhabitants more brazen.

There was one such little place that became extremely dangerous for several years called Shumba Alta. It would have been outright foolish for us to send a truck of cacao through there unarmed.

To ignore reality in that way would have been irresponsibly naive. Furthermore, we needed a gunman who was willing to shoot. Sometimes bullies need to see that you aren't afraid to punch them in the nose. Potential truck thieves needed to see and feel that the man with the gun meant business.

We found just such a man, and our shipments were always successful. However, if we would have convinced ourselves that the situation was impossible, we never could have sent cacao out of campo to make chocolate, and our project would have died in its infancy.

Here is what I take from all of this. One should always maintain hope and optimism for the future. To abandon hope and optimism is to fall into despair and to despair is to sacrifice your very life.

Meanwhile, one should always attempt to have a realistic and sober view of the facts and should make honest preparations to deal with them.

We're not allowed to lie to ourselves. Lying can happen in two ways.

We can tell ourselves that things are better than they actually are. In this scenario we tell ourselves that we'll be home by Christmas. This sets us up for extreme disappointment.

Or we can tell ourselves that things are worse than they actually are. In this scenario we tell ourselves that we could never send a truck through Shumba Alta, it is too dangerous. If it actually is too dangerous, we shouldn't send a truck.

However, if there is a solution and we are unwilling to accept the solution, this lie leads to unnecessary inaction, and this will take us right back to despair and fatalism, nothing matters anyway, so why try.

In summation, once we've faced reality and made our preparations for it, the best course is to maintain supreme optimism and strive for success.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!