Relationships and Antifragility

I find NN Taleb’s concept of antifragility fascinating. I’m going to try thinking about it and applying it to different situations. You already caught a glimpse of this when I said googleable knowledge is fragile. Hopefully, I can understand this concept better by writing about it. Perhaps one day I can use it to improve my life or improve a group of lives.

Two of Taleb’s examples were especially helpful in helping me understand this concept. First, he uses an example of a package. If it’s marked fragile, that means it will break if disturbed. A package that’s more robust would be wrapped in bubbles and could handle a sturdy punishment. But an antifragile package would become stronger by this mishandling. Now, it’s hard to imagine this being true for a package. So the imagery of a hydra, in his chart, was especially helpful to me. He contrasts the Sword of Damocles with a pheonix and a hydra. The first can break; it’s fragile. The second can die, but it’s reborn; this means it’s robust. Meanwhile, when you cut the hydra’s head, it grows three more. This means damaging it makes it stronger. Thus, the hydra is better than the pheonix. It’s not just reborn when hurt, staying where it was before the shock. Instead, it becomes more powerful. That’s antifragility.

Let me try to apply this to relationships. A conflict-free relationship is worrisome because relationships benefit from some amount of conflict. In a relationship, conflicts are inevitable. The question, then, is how does the couple handle these conflicts? When there are no conflicts, the relationship may appear stable, but it’s actually fragile. If a conflict comes up, the couple doesn’t know how to handle it, so it can blow up the relationship. Contrariwise, if there are conflicts, the couple practices conflict-resolution. They learn more about each other. When new (and sometimes bigger) conflicts come up, the couple can handle them better. Thus, a good relationship benefits from conflict.* That, I believe, is an example of antifragility.

Addendum: Hm. I think this needs clarification. A weak relationship is fragile. A strong relationship is antifragile. I’m not sure what I’d call robust… a pleasant relationship?

*A lot of conflict may mean the relationship isn’t going to work. This doesn’t disprove my point. Evolution exhibits antifragility, but it can’t handle the sun going red giant and swallowing up the Earth. Plus, I’m still exploring this concept, not proclaiming any gospel. I am still free to examine this angle.

One thought on “Relationships and Antifragility

  1. Lloyd

    I’ve only recently caught up on your weblog posts, and it always—always—strikes me how trenchant a thinker you are. I’m glad you’re still writing here. Weblogging (as we knew it) is fast becoming a lost art these days.

    At any rate, just wanted to comment on notion you put forth in the asterisked footnote … human evolution may be able to handle Sol going nova if (and this is a big “if,” admittedly) we wise up quickly and create a sustainable planet for many more generations to come. If we avoid civilizational meltdown, we might yet be able to find Earthlike extrasolar planets in some nearby galaxy to colonize.


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