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Granite Geek: It’s time to be a resigned realist that the pandemic is never ‘going away’

  • NH DHHS—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/21/2021 5:11:56 PM
Modified: 11/21/2021 5:11:41 PM

As part of never-ending efforts to deal with this pandemic, it may be time to embrace the Stockdale Paradox.

This concept, which I just learned about, is named after Jim Stockdale, a rear admiral who was held as a POW in Vietnam for seven years. Stockdale said in interviews that the most optimistic soldiers rarely survived prison, a paradoxical idea to a society that embraces the power of positive thinking.

Optimists were the people who were sure they’d be released by Christmas, then by Easter, then by autumn – until repeated disappointment crushed their spirit and “they died of a broken heart.” It was the resigned realists who survived, Stockdale said, the people who recognized that there was no certainty about their future and did the best they could, one day at a time, so they’d be ready if freedom ever did come.

There is an argument that the pandemic means the world needs to embrace the Stockdale Paradox and be resigned realists.

To thrive we’ve got to abandon the idea that we can make COVID-19 go away by the spring, by the summer, by next year. Instead we need to focus on doing the best we can to avoid the worst consequences of the disease and move ahead one day at a time.

For years to come we’re going to need widespread and continued vaccination efforts, lots of medical testing, occasional short-term limits placed on freedom of assembly, and changes in some well-established  personal and occupational practices. Nobody’s happy about any of those but that’s the way it’s going to be.

When you think about it, though, this is how the human species has always dealt with disease. We have always shaped our behavior to minimize its impact; just ask your grandparents about dealing with summertime polio scares.

Only in the last half-century have antibiotics and vaccines and public health initiatives (indoor plumbing has saved more lives than any medicine ever developed) led us to think that life free of serious illness is the norm. COVID-19 has shown that we need to be realists again.

For coronavirus-related information and updates throughout the week, visit concordmonitor.com/coronavirus. Until better vaccine data becomes available, this weekly tracker will stop listing those numbers.

What’s the trend on the spread and impact of the disease? Bad and getting worse.

By the time you read this I suspect that there will be more people in New Hampshire hospitals with COVID-19 than at any time during the pandemic. More of them are young adults than in the past and, alarmingly, a growing percentage are fully vaccinated, indicating that immunization from the earliest vaccine shots is beginning to wane.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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