Opinion: How to deal with tough times




On September 9th 1964, in the midst of the Vietnam war, an American plane was shot out of the sky by Vietnamese forces. Jim Stockdale, the pilot, survived but he was beaten and taken prisoner, where he was kept for eight years. Those eight years were, frankly, awful, he was tortured daily, and suffered terrible injuries including two broken legs. But he survived. Most of the other prisoners of war at that camp did not.

When asked why that was the case, Stockdale famously said: Oh, that’s easy, many of the other prisoners were optimists. 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 would still be here. They ended up dying of a broken heart. 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.”

This is a profound lesson for any man dealing with a crisis, personal or otherwise.

First, confront the brutal facts of the situation

This is tough. The last thing we want to do when our world is crumbling around us is to face the truth. The truth can often be terrifying or demoralising, that’s particularly true if it is our fault. So, as a defence mechanism we minimise things or we frame it in unrealistic and often naive terms.

Taking this approach has two detrimental impacts. First, it prevents you from creating an effective plan to overcome it. You will only ever be able to overcome the watered down problem you defined. Second, the people who need you to lead them, your wife, your family, your church, your company, your community and so on, will lose trust in your ability to get them through it if they think you cannot see the problem at hand.

We see this play out all the time. During World War II, Winston Churchill was honest when he told the public that the enemy was a dangerous threat to their lives and their freedom and the world as they knew it. They trusted him to lead them through it. In contrast, during the UK’s mad-cow-disease crisis of 1990, a Government minister fed his daughter a hamburger in front of TV cameras to demonstrate that beef had never been safer to eat, despite evidence to the contrary. Rather than boost morale, it eroded the public’s trust in his ability to lead them through the crisis. Need more examples, check out the Covid-19 pandemic.

Be brave, face up to the truth and then…

Second, fight hard to retain the faith that you will overcome it in the end

The difficulty of confronting the brutal facts of any situation is that it can scare us into inaction. This is where a great man has to be disciplined. First, you need to acknowledge your emotional state. Fear, sadness, anxiety, pain, anger are not weakness. They are normal. Ever wonder why God commands his people to be strong and courageous? It’s because He understands why we might be afraid.

Then, once you have dealt with these emotions, do whatever it takes to bring yourself back to a position of faith. That takes discipline but you need to do it for yourself and for those you serve. As a Christian, I recommend you run to God. Read the scriptures, listen to inspiring faith stories, pray and hold onto Him for dear life. I also recommend talking to your mates, meeting with trusted mentors, scheduling joy into your daily diary, and also creating a command centre, a quiet place where you can rest up and consume inspiring content before the day starts and preferably as it ends.

Fight hard for hope and for faith. It’s much like a small flame that flickers on a candle when carried outside in a storm. It’s fragile and needs to protected and fuelled to keep it going. I don’t know what you may be facing at the moment, but in my opinion this balance is the best way to conquer it.

Main Photo Credit: Quinten De Graaf via Unsplash

Chris Kerr

Chris is a husband to Alicia and father to Thea, who is the subject of his columns on Fatherhood for Sorted.  In his spare time he works for a national law firm in an executive capacity and provides crisis leadership consultancy support for non-profits across the UK.  He attends Urban Crofters Church in Cardiff.  A keen weekend adventurer, Chris is regularly spotted in the sea or on mountains.

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