When will it end?

That’s what a lot of people in the UK and worldwide are wondering now. When will the lockdown end? When can we get back to normal after COVID-19?

Despite numerous best estimates and rumours, the honest answer is that no one knows. Indeed it is such a complex situation that realistically, no one can be expected to. Amid such uncertainty then, the temptation grows to pin our hopes upon meaningful changes within time frames that we ourselves define:

  • “Surely there will be a change to lockdown conditions this Sunday?”
  • “I’m sure we’ll be back to school in September.”
  • “This will all be over by Christmas.”
  • “There will be a vaccine early next year.”

But the things is, we don’t know and so these deadlines come and go completely outside of our control. This then leads to an increased sense of helplessness, apathy and depression.

In his seminal book “Good to Great”, Jim Collins used a striking example to illustrate this point and the way we should respond. During the Vietnam War, Admiral James Stockdale was the highest ranking US officer held captive by the Vietnamese. He was imprisoned for over seven years in the notorious Hanoi Hilton and subjected to routine beatings and torture.

Admiral Stockdale told how the people who did not survive such harsh conditions were those with an overly optimistic outlook. They would assume that they’d be freed by Christmas, but Christmas would come and go. Then Easter. Then Summer. And so on until their spirits were broken by the endless cycle of hope and disappointment.

Rather, Stockdale found that the keys to surviving in such testing and uncertain circumstances were twofold:

  • Confront head on and unvarnished, the most brutal facts of your current situation
  • Never, ever lose faith that you will, in the end, overcome. However long that takes

Collins termed this duality the “Stockdale Paradox”. By living these values, Admiral Stockdale did indeed prevail and the period in captivity became the defining event of his life.

A few weeks or months at home grumbling about shaky WiFi and endless Zoom calls is little in comparison to seven years as a PoW. But nevertheless (and understandably) we all want our lives and freedoms back as they were. So when will this all end? When will we be back to normal after COVID-19?

Like everyone else, I don’t know but I choose to believe this: That this will be the defining event in many of our lives and we will ultimately come through this as better, stronger and more compassionate people.


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