You can handle a lot – for a while. You can handle separation from your sweetheart if you know you’ll be greeted with an embrace on your return in a few days. You can put up with a horrendous mess as your kitchen is being remodeled – for a couple weeks. You may be able to tolerate the grueling radiation or chemo for your cancer while you count down the six weeks until it ends. Knowing the end of the story makes things easier.
But what if you don’t know the end of the story? Jim Collins writes of his interview with Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the Vietnam War. Tortured over twenty times times during his eight-year imprisonment, Stockdale was credited with helping other men deal with the torture, instituting an elaborate communication system among his fellow captives who were often held in solitary confinement, and exchanging secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters. When questioned about what allowed him to make it through that time with his sanity intact, he credited his ability to be both brutally honest about his present circumstances and at the same time confident that he and the others would get out and prevail in the end. He told Jim Collins,
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. (Good to Great, p. 85)
Jim Stockdale was confident of the end of the story even though none of the circumstances around him provided evidence of such. That makes me think of our own circumstances – and of the end of the story that we are each a part of right now.