Insights (Essays) April 2020

The Light at the End of the COVID-19 Tunnel

Ron Kaczorowski



That compelling worldwide and local events have us living in interesting times is a significant understatement. That a novel respiratory virus, COVID-19, has had the unusual ability to rapidly become a pandemic with significant and unrelenting socioeconomic consequences, has now become our reality. COVID-19 is challenging and taxing our individual, social, financial, healthcare and other critical resources in ways that we have not experienced before – but perhaps should have expected. 

For our healthcare systems, with all of their present issues, we can be extremely thankful that committed professionals, and related staff, have continued to unselfishly deliver timely services to those patients who urgently require them. Across many levels of the healthcare community, COVID-19 has thrown some significant challenges towards traditional thinking and approaches, which must be addressed promptly – with the understanding that what was true just yesterday may not be true today … or even tomorrow. 

If history has taught us anything, these unusual times are not a first and they will definitely not be the last. As a Stockdale optimist, I am confident that this pandemic will also pass. What is difficult to know however – even with the required self-isolation and social distancing along with proactive testing and prompt treatment for those affected – is when will we triumph over COVID-19. 

But what is a Stockdale optimist? In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses the Stockdale Paradox, named after US Vice Admiral James Stockdale, which defines an individual’s optimism as an important characteristic in becoming a resilient person - especially when faced with a significant challenge. The Stockdale Paradox also challenges us to combine that optimism with the responsibility of looking at today’s realities objectively. That is exactly how Vice Admiral James Stockdale survived as a long-term prisoner of war during the Vietnam War – as compared to some of his fellow soldiers, who were convinced they would be released in the very near future, and many of whom did not survive. The key survival mechanism for Stockdale was the ability to combine the optimism that he would eventually be released, with the realism that he had no control over when that would happen (Collins 2011).

A Stockdale Optimist focuses on four key areas: 1) a realistic and pragmatic view of a situation, 2) a strong belief and faith in people, 3) the ability to understand and appreciate what one can control and, just as importantly, what is out of one’s control, and finally, 4) the optimism that the first three areas will eventually provide a passage out of today’s dark tunnel.

For the healthcare sector, this reality seems to change at a rate that is unprecedented both at a global and regional level. COVID–19 has provided unparalleled challenges for many within the healthcare community of providers, caregivers, payers and most importantly, patients and their loved ones. This reality also touches upon those individuals and organizations that are indirectly associated with the healthcare market in ways they have most probably never imagined, or planned for.

As a Stockdale optimist, you must rely on those trusted sources of evidence-based information, which keep you aware of the reality we face. A consistent effort is required to turn off the avalanche of “noise” coming from those who have become today’s pseudo experts - and there are many! 

Also, as a Stockdale optimist, one must have both faith and a strong belief in people, from those whom we expect and to those we would never expect, to lead us by commitment and example through our present challenges. We need to look upon those organizations that have never entertained entering the healthcare market to explore how their core competencies can, through imaginative and creative thinking, deliver meaningful and timely value to the community of healthcare stakeholders. Great examples are already occurring, which leave me confident that the required effort to move the flywheel has already gathered momentum and will only accelerate.

There is also a belief held by several that this will just blow over and, with time, things will get back to the way they were. Not likely! Even worse are those who, for reasons of opportunistic and self-serving greed, will falsely portray themselves as committed individuals and/or organizations for the greater good of their fellow citizens - of these beware!

We must, after the pandemic has abated, take the appropriate amount of time to fully understand what happened and why. What we learn from the outcome of that process will guide us in taking the necessary and timely steps to continuously improve upon the positive outcomes. We need to eliminate the wasted approaches and spent energies that have not delivered any meaningful value, and also challenge ourselves to develop new value-based initiatives from the foundations of our learnings.

Finally, we must take the time to acknowledge, thank and show our sincere appreciation to all of those who were the true heroes throughout this ordeal and who would ultimately allow us to enjoy the light at the end of the tunnel.

About the Author

Ron Kaczorowski is President of SecurLinx (IBO), Managing Director of Mareka Alliances and former chair of the Kensington Health Centre. He can be reached at


Collins, J. 2011, July 19. Good to Great. Harper Collins.  



Toronto ND wrote:

Posted 2020/08/04 at 01:49 PM EDT

From one Stockdale optimist to another, Ron, I admire your take on what will happen (and must happen) as we approach the light at the end of the tunnel in conquering the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s hard to believe the difference between a month ago and now. We have adopted social distancing almost overnight, with untold benefits of bringing families together, more people walking in neighborhoods, realizing our real priorities, and even the earth shaking less under coronavirus. Personally, I have adopted an “ostrich” approach to our present situation, realizing that the media is inciting a lot of fear in far too many. Instead, with an innate sense of what people around us can do in making lemonade out of lemons, we will deal with the realities which confront us, control what we can and not worry about what we can’t, and will resiliently come to a more enlightened way of life. As you say, right now, we owe a lot to the unsung heroes who are on the front lines, be it in healthcare or grocery stores.


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