A Special Operations officer, told me a story about a Special Forces soldier who was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam war. There was a bounty for the heads of all Special Forces personnel who participated in operation Phoenix at the time and the soldier figured his life was over.
He was trussed up and tortured. He knew if he kept to the hard line of name, rank and serial number he was dead. He then did something extraordinary. He changed his mental state by repeating a general statement continuously. During special forces training, he learned to repeat the sentence “Day by day, in every way, I’m getting stronger and stronger” twenty times, three times a day. He discovered that a simple mental thought repeated continuously occupies the mind exclusively and changes your mental state and behavior. He decided to use the same exercise.
The sentence he used during his captivity was “Moment by moment, in every way, I am becoming Christ and loving and understanding my enemy more and more.” At first, he was highly conflicted and hated his enemy. This caused a great deal of cognitive dissonance. He knew he couldn’t change his circumstance, so he knew he had to change himself. And he said eventually he believed what he was saying and it showed in his eyes and body language. He became what he pretended to be. He became like Christ.
As they tortured him, he told them he loved them, that he understood why they were torturing him and why they would kill him. He told them not to feel guilty about what they were doing to him because he understood and loved them and prayed for them.
At first, his torturers were highly amused and continued to torture him. But It’s hard to hate and torture someone who seems to genuinely love and understand you, so, over time, the North Vietnamese became confused and gradually the torture stopped. Then they began to feed him and heal his wounds. They kept his connection to the Phoenix secret so he wouldn’t be executed by their superiors. They became his friend instead of his enemy. They protected him until the end of the war. Now, after he was repatriated, he visits his former captors every three years in Hanoi to laugh and joke about their wartime experiences and celebrate life.
He became what he pretended to be.
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