#1420 Let’s Talk About Heroes

With Vice Admiral James Stockdale

The other day my right-hand guy/our Heroic Head Coach, Michael, sent me a text telling me that I HAD to do a series of +1s on Big Ideas from our Notes on James Stockdale’s Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot.

He was adamant.

I respect his strong recommendations.


Here we are.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale was an amazing human being.

We’ve talked about Stockdale and his wisdom briefly in previous +1s including this one on Jim Collins’s wisdom inspired by and named after him called The Stockdale Paradox. And, we’ve featured Notes on both Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot AND Courage Under Fire.

Stockdale spent nearly eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He spent four of those years in solitary confinement and was repeatedly tortured. He was the commanding officer of hundreds of other U.S. soldiers and received the Medal of Honor for his service beyond the call of duty.

He was also a practicing Stoic philosopher who revered Epictetus and his wisdom. In fact, he tells us that it was Epictetus’s Stoic wisdom that helped him navigate his extraordinary challenges and serve Heroically.


Let’s take a quick tour through some of his wisdom in Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot. We’ll start with wisdom from one of the speeches Stockdale gave to the alumni of the Naval Academy.

His speech began with these words: “I’m going to talk about heroes and heroism.”

He continues by saying: “I know you midshipmen have thought about this subject—it was probably a touch of the romantic that initially stirred you to come to this place (certainly was true in my case). It’s just that today we’re grounded into the idea of egalitarianism, that it’s somehow unfair, or undemocratic, to recognize, let alone admire, those uncommon and special people who over history have risen to challenges in ways totally incompatible with conventional wisdom’s view of so-called instincts of self-preservation. In other words, we’ve become too self-conscious and embarrassed to talk about certain human behaviors limited in distribution to a highly selective few.”

Then he continues by saying: “So tonight, I want to throw self-consciousness and embarrassment to the wind and, for a half hour or so, talk about something you should know: the history, the literature, and yes the reality of heroes. Let me tell you, they are out there—those of confounding selflessness and seeming immunity to fear; those with fires burning in their breasts, fires that may turn the tide for you as leaders someday. They have eluded concise definition since the beginning of recorded history.”

He concludes his opening remarks by telling us: “Aristotle would say only that they do exist and exist as the polar opposite of the beasts—that as the beasts are a cut below the normal human, the heroes are a cut above him, somewhere between the humans and the gods.”


THAT is Today’s +1.

If you’re reading this +1, my hunch is YOU have been inspired to engage with Heroic because you, too, have been “touched by the romantic” ideal that we ALL (including and especially YOU!) have the Heroic potential to make a difference in the world.

Let’s be deeply humble about the challenge of moving from Theory to Practice to Mastery.


Let’s “throw self-consciousness and embarrassment to the wind” as we aspire to BE HEROIC.

Heroes are real.

Want proof?

Go look in the mirror.

Beyond and deeper than the physical body reflected back at you.

See your daimon—that best, most Heroic version of yourself that is ALWAYS there waiting for you to pay attention and live in integrity with its and your highest ideals.

Hear your best, most Heroic self whispering from that mirror into your ear…

Beckoning you to show up and make TODAY the day you give us all you’ve got.

Flip the switch.

Chest up. Chin down.

Pull the thread your head.

Deep breath in. Exhale slightly longer than the inhale.

Connected to that best, most Heroic version of yourself.

Today’s the day.


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