Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Are we there yet?

After his plane was shot down, Commander James Stockdale spent more than seven years of his life as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton). In spite of being a senior ranking naval officer Stockdale (later to become Rear Admiral Stockdale) suffered extreme humiliation, abuse, torture and was refused medical treatment. Later in life he was asked by James Collins, author of the business classic Good to Great, to explain what sustained him physically and mentally in the face of such extreme and lengthy hardship. 

I never lost faith in the end of the story, 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 asked Stockdale about those who didn’t survive the ordeal of capture.  

Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

Stockdale then added:
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.

The most brutal facts of our current global reality are stark. Today Covid-19 is an incredibly infectious virus that is lethal for many people. Left unchecked the virus spreads quickly and health systems are easily overrun. Today we have no cure, no real treatment and no guarantee that ‘herd immunity’ is possible. Today, locking down (at an unimaginable personal, social and economic cost) is the only thing that seems to be slowing the spread.

Now is not the time to demand that our politicians and scientist answer our cry – ‘How long?’

Now is the time to follow their lead, respond to their advice and do whatever we can to be part of the solution.

Focussing on today, while living in hope, is better than false optimism. There are over eighty separate teams of the most brilliant men and women working on a vaccine. Anti-viral experiments using existing drugs are being pursued desperately. No scientific quest has ever been explored with such universal international support. History too, encourages us that scientific breakthroughs often come way out of left field; with a chance observation, a random thought or an accidental connection.

We do not have the luxury of pleading like an impatient child on a long journey ……….
‘Are we there yet?’

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34