Resilience Is Not Enough

When I planned on this blog post, I thought I would be writing about how we need to toughen ourselves up to withstand whatever changes are in store over the next (pleaseGodLetItOnlyBe) four years.

I’m not going to do that.

Because as the often-annoyingly-egocentric Nassim Taleb points out over and over again, resilience is bouncing back. It’s bending with stresses and then recovering, it’s getting back to the way things were.

Thing is, things weren’t that great. Movements like “Black Lives Matter”, the Flint water crisis, DAPL, the continuing erosion of the middle class and increasing income disparity, those all were happening long before anyone thought that What Happened Election Night was even remotely possible.

I know that my assumptions about racism and sexism and homophobia and religious fundamentalism in this country proved to be vastly inaccurate.

In short: I don’t want my country, my family, myself to be “resilient”. We can do better than that.

You Guessed It: AntiFragility is the New Goal

I would worry about this whole idea of Antifragility being a fad, me just jumping on the coattails of a passing popularity, except that I’ve been writing about it for a while. The difference is that I had not delved deep into the theory of it. I’ve been doing that more, lately, and it has revealed to me two things:

  1. Nassim Taleb is an insufferably pompous and elitist egotistical writer, who throws perjoratives like “nerd” and “sissy” into his supposedly-thoughtful prose with a carelessness that makes one wonder if he also kicks puppies for the pleasure of listening to their whines. He reminds me of the school bully, except he is in the playground of popular science.
  2. Nassim Taleb is also right in terms of how antifragility not only has always worked, but how it is undermined by so many of the processes that we take for granted.

I say that in case you also choose to read his work. He’s a macho intellectual (though I’m sure he would hate to be called the latter). But if you can get past the bluster and the fragile masculinity, there are some good points, and some pertinent warnings. There were even a-ha! moments when I realized that a great deal of my work with Open-Space events is basically working with antifragility.

You Keep On Using That Word…

It’s not too hard to define antifragility, especially in terms of the associated words — fragile and resilient. Fragile things break when disruptions happen; resilient things return to the status-quo after disruptions happen; antifragile things thrive on disruptions.

That becomes the question: in what ways can we make sure that the disruptions in life not only do not break us, but make us stronger? And don’t give me that old aphorisms about what doesn’t kill you; the fact is, what doesn’t kill you might just not have been strong enough to kill you, but odds are that it’s killed a lot of others. You were just lucky.

But it’s also true that fortune favors the prepared. How can we set in place systems so that if nothing happens, we’re fine, but if things really get crazy, we’re even better?

I’m not (only) talking about things like diversifying income, creating a bug-out bag like Jason Bourne, or investing in a case of MREs (however, I do have one on my Amazon wish list, if you’re so inclined). I’m talking about everything.

Unlike many self-help bloggers, I don’t claim to have the answers for you. Heck, I don’t even really have the answers for me. But it helps that I can, thanks to Taleb’s books, identify the ways that I have already put antifragile systems in place. To a lesser extent, it helps me identify the fragile parts (that’s harder; few people deliberately put fragile systems in place on purpose).

There’s another weird kind of comfort when you look at setting your life towards more antifragility. That lies in the question of when: if you’re worried about things getting really bad, when is the right moment? When do you go from reaching for the first aid kit to going to the Emergency Room? Or whether to call 911 or drive yourself? If, like me, you’re a fan of history, you know of so many examples of people who waited too long before they fled, before they protested, before they reached out for help.

I was spending time trying to figure out what my triggering moment would be. Sure, I could build a go-bag, but when would I know it was the time to grab it? What would be the sign? How would I know?

In other words, to use Taleb’s nomenclature, I was trying to figure out how I could predict the Black Swan. And by their nature, they are not predictable. But that’s the point of antifragility: you set things up so that if the Black Swan doesn’t appear, you’re fine — but if it does, you not only can handle it, you flourish.

Again, it may seem like I’m talking like a Doomsday Prepper — and if that’s the way you want to interpret this post, that’s cool. But I’m talking about your relationships, your health, every system that is currently in place to build that thing you call your life.

Where is it fragile? Where is it antifragile? And how can you change the one into the other? I have a quote from Taleb, extolling the virtues of Stoicism, that has a hint:

The modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, desire into undertaking…

Time to get your antifragile alchemism brewing!

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