Military Wire: The real losers in this election — the optimists

Mike Schindler

We often hear that the optimist is the one who will succeed regardless of the circumstances. Could this in fact be wrong?

The renowned researcher and bestselling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, Jim Collins, shared an interview he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale and his experience in Vietnam.

Admiral Jim Stockdale was the highest-ranking military officer in the Hanoi Hilton. He was there for seven years, from 1968 to 1974. He was tortured over 20 times. And by his own account, Stockdale came out of the prison camp even stronger than he went in.

Surely it was his optimism that got him through that experience. Or was it?

If you’ve not watched the Stockdale Paradox video, I encourage you to do so — because it just might help some of you get through this election.

Misplaced faith is a true emotional killer, often leading to depression and loss of hope. Some experienced these feelings the last presidential election and others will likely experience them this election if they do not flip the script on their thinking.

As Jim read through the Admiral’s experience, he expressed, “How did he not let those oppressive circumstances beat him down? How did he not get depressed?”

So, he asked him.

“Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing,” Stockdale replied. “Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail — get out of this — but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person.”

After the shock of his answer wore off, Jim asked him who did not do as well. The Admiral’s response was again, revealing.

He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I can tell you who didn’t make it out. It was the optimists.”

He went on, “The optimists. Yes. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart.” (It will all be better after the election…)

He went on to share, “This is what I learned from those years in the prison camp, where all those constraints just were oppressive. You must never ever, ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints, with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”

Our circumstances do not have to define us. This election doesn’t have to define you. You will prevail if you choose to. This can be your opportunity to develop mental toughness.

And regardless of who wins this election, be committed to becoming a stronger and better person.

— By Mike Schindler

Edmonds resident Mike Schindler is the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Military Family Cares –– a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization and technology provider that combats veteran homelessness, while working to strengthen relationships and equip communities and families for success.


  1. This one comes off a bit Nihilist. All the things that suck about today’s circumstances are easily avoidable, but we all really sort of want the suffering. Putting faith in things isn’t totally futile, and I understand that this article doesn’t say that. The left puts more faith in white collar cops in the FBI, and the right puts more faith in the blue collar cops who work a beat. Trump supporters are putting faith in Trump not being corrupt, and Biden supporters are putting faith in the fact that they can find information that doesn’t make corruption a big deal. There seems to be a pretty big middle ground of people Choosing Kindness, but very few of people telling them to sit out if they don’t have a dog in the fight. Vote vote vote, pray pray pray. Is burning your ballot Nihilistic? Someone has to be an optimists for the children in the prison camps.

  2. That’s an interesting take Matt. The point is: where you put your faith matters – also having a very pragmatic view of the situation is important. Developing the mindset that regardless of the circumstances you’ll make it is life saver. I’m sure you remember the mantras “embrace the suck,” “easy day,” and the “the only easy day was yesterday” was part of developing mind over situation in the military, followed by training your brain to acknowledge micro-wins. Bottom line: where you put your faith, matters.

    1. I remember being told to “embrace the suck” in Al Udeid. You’re probably right Mike. I tell my employees and partners often, “Go to war with what [tools/people/money] you got” which is maybe along the same thread of appreciating the situation. The best country in the world should be able to take some of the institutions for granted, having some faith.

  3. Thanks for the letter Mike. The observation from Admiral Jim Stockdale regarding those who died after placing all their hope in being liberated by Christmas only to remain imprisoned reminds me that Victor Frankel observed similar situations during his time in a concentration camp during World War II. I highly recommend his book, Man’s Search for Meaning if you haven’t read it or if you had, it’s worth another read.

    It profoundly changed the way I look at suffering and where I place my faith.

    1. Rebecca, that book also changed my life. Man’s Search for Meaning is powerful – and would be a great read for everyone – even those in high school (if it isn’t required). Where we put our faith matters.

  4. Mike, your article resonates with me, and Matt, thank you for your service. During the midst of the largest enemy offensive of the Vietnam War the mantra among my friends and I, was “What’s the worst they can do to us, send is to Vietnam”? We will get through this election cycle, and get past Covid 19, but as stated by Admiral Stockdale, it may not be by Christmas.

    1. Thanks Steve. How we view our situations often determine how we get through them – that was really the lesson Admiral Stockdale was sharing. And to your point…your mantra probably even brought a smile lol.

  5. Are you talking about optimism or hope? Seems like there is some confusion here and you are just playing with semantics to try to make your points. To me the optimist is the guy who says, “hey, nothing is perfect and I’m going to just deal with it as it appears to be, try to make it better if I can, so I and others can survive no matter how long it takes. In the example, the people who didn’t make it were not the “optimistic” they were the “unrealistically hopeful,” who’s hopes were dashed when the weren’t out by Christmas, so the theory is they just gave it up. You could call them “weak” perhaps, but “optimistic?” I just don’t see it.

    1. Hey Clinton – hopefully you had a chance to watch the video. I’m just reporting what one the nation’s greatest researchers found and what a POW experienced. Does it apply to all – perhaps not…but likely to most. I’d argue that it is the pragmatist who fairs best – he or she has a realistic outlook and has hope. The optimist can only handle so much disappointment before they fall victim to depression and hopelessness (at least that is what we find in our combat recovery trainings).

      1. So an optimist can’t also be a pragmatist and a survivor? Optimists tend to view mankind as inherently good, while pessimists tend to view mankind as inherently evil. Liberals view mankind as basically good and prone to do the right thing when given the opportunity. Conservatives view mankind as fatally flawed and in need of saving and being kept in check or they will do evil. I choose to be a liberal and an optimist and so far I’ve survived near death three times. I guess in the end it comes down to how one perceives life and death.

  6. Clint – let’s stay on point of the article – which has to do with mindset and circumstances. Regardless of the circumstance, you choose how you navigate it and how it impacts you.

    1. I agree with Clinton. Engaging in optimistic thinking doesn’t preclude one from retaining faith that one will prevail in the end while at the same time accepting the “brutal facts” in the present. In fact, I would say it is strong, faith-filled “optimistic thinking” to do so. What is described in the opinion piece and on the video as optimistic thinking is in actuality a Pollyanna view about the future, in my opinion. It’s like saying the virus will just disappear with the warm weather.

  7. Annon – I think you are certainly making the point that we see the world and our circumstances through our own biases – which, if how you interpret another person’s experience – outside of their own interpretation and experience gives you strength, so be it.

  8. Mike, I think the point you and the good General were/are trying to make is that optimism is somehow always a flaw in the game of survival and faith is somehow always a virtue in the game of survival. Your doing this puts me in the notion of how Conservatives always try to convince anyone who will listen that being a “Liberal” is some kind of evil and Un-American viewpoint and most certainly anti-Christian. In other words, being a “Liberal” is automatically a negative, but being a Conservative is always a neutral and usually a positive. I just don’t agree with your and the General’s assessment that “optimists” always get disappointed and just give up and die. I would agree that this is something you want to believe, but that does not make it so.

  9. Clinton, I respect your viewpoint. I don’t share in it fully. It is a stretch for me to see optimism as “always a flaw” in the game of survival or that faith is “somehow always a virtue.” I don’t buy into the “always” notion. I would say that “often” is applicable. I learn so much from the responses of the articles – the biases people bring to a piece is insightful and educational – and it actually helps me craft what my intended points better. You certainly don’t have to agree with me or the Admiral’s assessment – but I would argue that truth is no respecter of personal beliefs. The psychologist Erik Erickson certainly has done ample research on optimists vs pessimists – and there is no question that the optimist fares better than a pessimist. I think the Admiral was a realist – more pragmatic – and had learned the benefit of micro-wins. Which has a lot to do with mindset…not party politics or affiliations. That really is my point – regardless of your party – be pragmatic. You won’t die if your guy loses – unless you are so optimistic that your life depends on it.

  10. Hey Mike, now I think we are really communicating and maybe seeing each other’s viewpoints much clearer. I certainly agree that “always” and “often” are two different things. Blanket statements are generally flawed. Being a truly unbiased person is almost impossible and biased people tend to make blanket statements. (My God, is the one and only true God, for example).

    I’m definitely biased toward the “Liberal” side of politics. I think the difference between myself and most of the “Conservative” leaning people I know, is they don’t recognize or believe they are in fact biased. What originally concerned me about your viewpoint, is that we have a tendency as a society to use somewhat neutral sounding words as euphemisms for more emotionally loaded words. (It’s more subtle but just as potent in intent to call someone a “Liberal” than calling them a “Communist.” Political activists do this all the time. I think I took your intent wrong.

  11. Clint, just when you and Mike were help us all to understand, and deal with some interesting idease you say this: “I’m definitely biased toward the “Liberal” side of politics. I think the difference between myself and most of the “Conservative” leaning people I know, is they don’t recognize or believe they are in fact biased.”
    Your perception that your conservative friends are biased to me is scary. You can wordsmith the concepts all you want but to me I have a number of “liberal” ideas, that I think are actually very “conservative” in the end. My conservative side says we need a govt that can get things done at the least possible cost. My liberal side says we need to do various forms of subsidies to make thing work. One subsidy we do today is the tax credit we give to low income families to help support the kids. So if the goal is to move $100 a month to a low income family through food stamps or some other program we should find a way to do that as efficiently as possible. Some charities for example have a very low overhead to do their work but typically govt does not match that efficiency.
    So my Liberal idea is best if we do it in a Conservative way. What bias do you see in my liberal side or my conservative side? To Mikes point as an “optimist” will I be a loser in this election? No I will get out of the Edmonds Hilton Jail that I am in as soon as I can get my CV vaccine.

  12. Darrol, you are kind of making my point for me. I don’t even think of you as coming from an ideological viewpoint. I don’t really see you as being Conservative or Liberal. You are actually kind of my ideal as to how one should look at ideas and how people can get along in a society without every thing they do or say having to pass an ideological litmus test for purity.

    I don’t think anyone can truly be open minded and unbiased until they realize that they are in fact biased in many of their viewpoints toward how they look at life, liberty, the role of government – you name it. The true Liberal by nature believes in change for the sake of change and the possibility of improvement. The true Conservative believes the status quo is usually the best of all possible worlds and any change should only be implemented if good results are a virtual sure thing. We have lost the middle ground between the two extremes of the ideologies and we will not remain a free people, if we do not regain the middle ground someway, somehow. Unlike Mike, I do think this election is a matter of life or death for our democracy. Our system is an honor system and it just can’t be run by men without honor for all our citizens without regard to whether they come from Blue states or Red states.

  13. Clinton – I agree – we do filter through our biases – but we do have the power to change those biases – I could bore you with the science, but simply put, its what is called multiple perspective advantage. It does require an open mind. What makes our democracy so good is the checks and balances. We are stronger than who sits in the office of the president. So for this reason, I don’t think our democracy is facing a life or death situation. Bravo on getting me a bit off point though…the article addresses how an individual looks at the situation they face – pick the situation and you’ll have people navigate it differently based on their bias.

    1. Mr. Schindler, I’ll take your “biases” everyday over those that express their biases daily, multiple times a day, on subjects they think they know.
      You sir are an inspiration. Your resume and and actions in creating OMFC Operation Military Family Cares, for our Veterans is very dear to my heart. You walk-the-walk AND talk-the-talk! Your commentary is always a wonderful and intelligent read. Thank you for your service and positive activism in our community.

  14. The whole notion that the election is somehow invalid unless one or the other candidates wins in a virtual landslide proves that our democracy is at a cross roads. When an individual and/or a party bends over backwards to defeat the checks and balances built into our system; and trash the institutions that assure the checks and balances work in the process; a Constitutional crisis looms large in our future. Most dictators, since the end of the divine right of kings era, have been put into office in “democratic” elections. I sincerely hope and pray that you are right and I’m wrong about the coming situation.

  15. Hey Clinton, regardless if I’m right or wrong, it won’t change my response to how I think, act and feel about – and serve – my fellow man. And these times – all times really – do fall in line with Soren Kierkegaard’s philosophy that “life is understood backwards; but lived forwards.” So we may not understand what is going on, but perhaps this is the stage for something greater, better and more rewarding.

    1. Mike, I share your hopes my friend. As my financial guy says, “we plan for the worst case and hope for the best case, but results will most likely be somewhere in the middle.”

  16. It is easy to talk about eliminating the Electoral College or “pack” the Supreme Court. But fortunately it is not easy to do. Our government system is very good. We have had weak/sick presidents before and we survived. Many presidents (Clinton for one) won with less than a majority. Citizens are sadly lacking in understanding our government which is not a direct democracy. “and to the Republic for which it stands” is part of the Pledge of Allegiance. We need to press for better teaching of our history and government.
    It is shocking to see the ignorance on display.

  17. Actually five Presidents have won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote and Bill Clinton was not one of them. They were John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. It’s pretty simple to google this fact rather than write something that simply isn’t true. I do agree we need to press for better teaching of our history and government. If you do a careful history read of the founding, you will learn that we came very close to being a Constitutional Monarchy rather than a Republic. Washington refused to be named King for Life. I repeat our honor system of the rule of law, rather than the rule of a man or a single party, hangs by a literal flimsy thread in this election. The issue of just how “democratic” we actually are as a nation has always been present and probably always will be.

  18. Best POTUS in history was Warren G Harding. He had only 6% of the support in the Primaries. When an election chooses silverware, the fork and spoon will get most of the votes. We’d have a spoon when we’re tired of eating steak, and then we’d vote for the fork when we’re full of soup and cereal. A REPUBLIC chooses a spork. The problem with Democracy is that there is just one vote and no compromise. Right now democrats are trying to elect the oldest, whitest politician, and a tough on crime District Attorney (cop) that would have put his son in jail for smoking crack if only he were black. Ya can’t make this up. We should just get rid of the popular vote.

  19. I should have added that Clinton did not win the majority of the votes. Clinton won with 43% of the popular vote, Bush 37% and Perot (remember him?) had 18%. But Clinton easily won the electoral votes.

  20. The popular vote has evolved over time with most of the original colonies/states choosing their Electors by votes of the state legislatures rather than even having a popular vote. Thus, a totally indirect system of picking the leader of the country.

    Over time, the various state legislatures brought the popular vote into the process of choosing the leader of the country for whatever reason, but most likely to make the country seem like more of a Democracy and less of a Republic to the extent possible under the Constitution.

    Much of our so called “Democracy”, is little more than smoke and mirrors designed to make people think they have control that they don’t really have. Even State Senators were originally appointed by state Governors, not chosen by popular vote.

    If Washington had chosen to be named King or President for life, we would probably be just as autocratic and Oligarchic as Russia could ever hope to be. Rule of law, rather than rule of man, is a very slender thread. That’s why the “Police” role is so difficult – do they protect people or do they protect power? It appears about 40% of the country would prefer strong man rule, which is much easier and requires much less thought, than the rule of law.

    The Constitution was written by virtually all white men (no women) who owned black men and women for economic reasons , especially in the area of the Southern colonies. These men had little belief in, or thirst for, “Democracy” for the masses or for anyone else but themselves and immediate family.

    1. Clinton, the popular-vote schemes, the trade unions, ballot initiatives and eugenics movement (singular movement) came about during the 1910-1930 Socialist’s Revolution. Even the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag (to the state) began to be adopted in that era. For anyone who has never seen this picture before, American children giving the Bellamy salute to the flag, wear a seatbelt.,170,1863,1412/children-salutes-flag-Irene-Kaufmann-Settlement-1934.jpg

      From the Socialist movement came the means and desire for popular voting. A tapestry of socialists parties were started and had incredible traction. It eventually evolved into the Socialists workers parties, then to National Socialist parties, then to the ironically fascist-anti-fascist parties (see “smash Jewish Communism”):

      We should undo the damage, and repeal all of the popular voting schemes and hold all chambers of congress at all levels of government responsible for voting. No more popular votes for higher office, no more ballot initiatives. Popular voting is a relatively new thing, and if we look at half of the failed states since popular voting has been in practice, they usually evolve into dictatorships from a seminal, contested popular-election. Then the auspice of popular vote is used as implied consent. North Korea has 100% voter participation (we should be jealous).

      1. The means and desire for popular voting increased substantially starting in 1824 as a result of philosophies around Jacksonian democracy.

        The Bellamy flag salute is with the palm facing upward and should not be conflated with a nazi style of salute. Francis Bellamy was the author of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.

  21. So, if we just went back to how voting was at the time of the Revoloution, all would be well in the modern U.S.A.? Interesting theory.

    The only popular vote would be for state legislators. The legislators would choose the Presidential Electors and the Governors would choose Senators. No chance for graft and corruption in that system. No “swamp” there.

  22. Well, Trump has officially declared himself the winner (2:00AM this morning) and that the election is a fraud, even though he is behind in the Electoral Count and slightly behind in the remaining three swing states as I write this. He’s going to the Supreme Court (where he just appointed a Judge confirmed on a straight party line vote) to make things right. Sure looks and sounds like a Dictator wanna be to me. I sure wish we would get rid of this popular vote nonsense so a rugged individualist can just appoint himself Commander In Chief and “drain the swamp.”

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