Resilience versus antifragility: learning to benefit from shocks and harnessing post-traumatic growth

An artificially landscaped tropical garden – Maintaining multiple species in the same space and keeping it pristine can be a very complex

What I do not like about self-help is the level of confidence with which most authors promote their hypothesis. While anything and everything will resonate and work well for a section of the population, generalizations across the board will deceive a lot of people. This can eventually do more harm than good for the most vulnerable in our midst.

No concept is a silver bullet. There are no magic formulas when it comes to self-help. We are mostly concerned with improving indicators for our health and wealth. Sometimes, as psychologists suggest, even WE do not know why we want something. Some of the things we wish for are social signalling that does not have any meaningful benefits for us at a deeper level.

We are all naive at some point in our lives. I said we are naive because I do not want to say that we are all gullible but the reality is that by nature we can all be gullible in certain situations depending on our physiological and psychological state of mind. When misinformation and lies are thrown at us left, right and centre, critical thinking is perhaps the most important skill we can possess to counter the volume of lies and misinformation and find the right combination or balance of information that will benefit us in a holistic sense. Some self-help ideas work against this.

The degree of fluidity between two extremes of nature’s system – simplicity and complexity, makes it very difficult to apply binary ideas to anything in our lives. The dynamism in these systems means that we have to constantly course-correct our behaviour, actions and reactions. Our best course of action is to opt for a dynamic, adaptive approach that helps us become better with each difficult situation. This is what Nassem Taleb calls Antifragility.

In 1888, Nietzsche wrote “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens.—Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” which can be translated as “Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” It appears in his book of aphorisms, Twilight of the Idols, and no further explanation follows. There are plenty of scientific references to this exact human phenomenon, where repeated exposure to a stressor can make you immune to that stressor over time. Unfortunately, grief, hardship, misery, misfortune and disaster do not strike every individual the same way.

A similar concept that we are quite familiar with is resilience. This term has been around and has been in frequent use since the Tsunami. A similar word I remember learning in hotel school is ‘tensile strength’. We discussed it during laundry and housekeeping classes to describe the different types and qualities of fabrics and clothes materials. Tensile strength maximum tension or force that a piece of fabric can tolerate before breaking. It is the ability of the material to be stretched with pressure without breaking/damaging and then be able to revert back to its original status. Resilience has a similar connotation. It means the ability to bounce back to its original state or not be damaged by pressure.

In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, we must design our systems – companies, operations, societies and infrastructure – to withstand shocks and find growth after or even through these shocks. The frequency and severity of turbulence and novelty of threats such as the recent pandemic and the impact these events have on everyone – including our own personal lives at an individual level, make it hard to survive and thrive today. Unless we are fully aware of how things work around us, we will find it difficult to pick ourselves up when we fall.

About Hassan Saeed

I am a lifelong learner. I learn every day and I learn from everybody I interact with - I live with this simple philosophy. My goal is to help spread knowledge and information that helps people get better every day. Learning should fit into everyone's daily routine. Learning should empower individuals to achieve more and drive them towards excellence and perfection.
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