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What Does It Mean To Be "Antifragile"?

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

The term was coined by Nassim Taleb, who had this to say in his book entitled "Antifragile:"

"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

Things that are antifragile gain strength when exposed to a certain level of randomness, resistance, and shock. A glass vase is fragile. A plastic replica is much more resistant to force, but it does not grow stronger from dropping it. On the other hand, the human will, the human spirit, the human mind, grows stronger with every blow.

We teach our kids that they are fragile by explicitly removing risks that they are perfectly capable of managing. We teach them they are fragile by intervening every time they have conflict that is within their reach of resolving. They have to be supervised at all times by a responsible adult. Our culture behaves in a way that makes children see, and therefore assess, themselves as fragile.

So, what do we do? We teach kids about resilience and how they need to have 'grit'. We teach them that if people were just nicer they could develop more of this resilience. We tell them that the reason they're sensitive is because their parents abandoned them or they grew up poor and if this weren't the case they would be functioning normally. Then we give them stress balls and breathing techniques to work on their resilience skills when in reality, resilience is not the end goal.

It's not just about getting bullets to bounce off you, it's about gaining strength from every attempted shot. It's about gaining the skills to get the other person to put the gun down and to put yours down too.

Resilience is great. Antifragile is better. And that's the beauty of it. You don't even need to teach antifragility. It's our default setting. The only thing that can damage one's antifragility is the removal of the naturally occurring obstacles that would eventually become the stepping stones needed to overcome adversities. You don't have to teach antifragility very much for kids to get it, but you CAN instil in them ideologies and practices that will cover their inherent strength and ability to bounce back with fear of failure and shame of weakness.

Your kid is antifragile. Treat them like it.

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