Courage, my friends, is not the absence of fear

I’m back.

Not so much, the be-goggled person who had foretold their second coming, such as it is, but as this stoic type who’s looking at their over washed, severely dry hands and wondering… “Whut?”

My friend Su wrote a lovely blog post and inspired me into action. Also, I’m talking to a lot of people on the verge of, to put it gently, losing it. That’s normal.

Responses to Covid-19 are varying from

  • I’m confusing the normalcy of whatsapp groups for life
  • I’m scared so someone else please calm me down
  • I’m thinking that normal is around the corner

In a parallel universe, in the world of small businesses – my usual stomping grounds – I find business leaders contemplating worst case scenarios with forced calm & a stoic expression interspersed with moments of crumble.   

So, this post is my attempt to talk about how to grow into the space where it’s possible to make tough decisions and be at peace, in a time when reality has done a 180 degree turn on you and times are hard.

Facts: The time for asking others, “What’s happening” is over. Arm yourselves with facts – or what there is, by way of facts. While we may not have access to what’s happening within our country, here are a couple of realities: 

  • This will be like a regular flu for the vast majority of the inflicted
  • The ones worst affected are ones with weak immune systems. So, do what you can for yours

The truth, as the redoubtable Mr. Wilde said, is rarely pure and never simple.

Therefore, get comfortable with

The Stockdale Paradox

What’s that now? Jim Collins in his book Good to Great talks about this way of dealing with trouble. It’s named after Admiral James Stockdale, an American solider who was imprisoned for eight years and tortured at the “Hanoi Hilton” PoW camp during the Vietnam War. Collins tells of his interview with Admiral Stockdale, who says that the ones who didn’t make it out of the PoW camp were the optimists who believed (without cause) that they’d be out by Christmas – and they wouldn’t, then think they’d be out by Easter, and they wouldn’t, then think they’d be out by Thanksgiving, and they wouldn’t. They died of a broken heart, when they ran out of hope.

I know what that feels like. Fundamentally a positive and happy person, I used to live from one moment of high energy and hope to another, and think, “life is good”. As a kid, it was, “Summer vacation! Here I come, Amar Chitra Kathas” to “Rainy evenings, nibbling cheese slices and devouring Enid Blytons”… etc. As an adult, that became living from weekend to weekend, or half marathon to half marathon… till reality dawned, that in life, the blows are often relentless. It doesn’t help to remember the positive and forget the bad any more than it helps to believe that it all sucks all the time. I learnt that if I don’t stop chasing the highs, I’ll never (truly) grow (up).

So… back to the Covid-19 scene. Is the solution is to confront facts? If you follow the 24-hour news cycle/ social media feed, you’ll agree that it can be tiring, angering and often fear augmenting. Clearly, that can’t be the answer.

Enter, Stockdale Paradox. It exists in the intersection space of these two approaches to trouble:

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  1. Accept that the situation is here. Accept what facts are verified and relevant.
  2. Stay unwavering in your hope that you will prevail in the end. Hope that all the good food and sleep and exercise (ahem) will bear fruit, and that your immune system will be your friend. Translate this hope into action, in whatever form you like – listening to Robert Macfarlane reading Nan Shepherd or banging a plate or reading quietly in your home or donating funds to folks making masks and ventilators or check in (on the phone) on the elderly parents of friends who live elsewhere.

This is not the time for losing hope, for wringing hands and feeling helpless. It does not do, to die a thousand little deaths before the actual one, whenever that is on the cards. I can say that without courting criticism, because I’ve had a long lifetime of falling back on the freeze mechanism at every threat, and have trained myself out of it.

I don’t know if you’ve read the fictitious J Mathrubootham’s column “Letters from a Concerned Reader” are a riot. But this last week, he brought a lump to my throat, and also  made me sing (very badly, per usual).

So. Chin up.

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One Reply to “Courage, my friends, is not the absence of fear”

  1. Hi ma. Lovely. Nicely put. As I call lt ” Take it easy and wait for tomorrow”. May my God bless you for more versatile penning. With love. dad.

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