I often use an exercise called The Lifeline in my teaching. I found a good summary of the exercise here. In the exercise people reflect on the important positive and negative experiences of their life.
Something that has struck me after all these years of watching groups work on the exercise – it is the hard times in life and how we dealt with them that most inspires. We are inspired by the struggle more than the end point.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” Henry Ford
I guess if an inspirational speaker came and gave a speech that went: “I had this idea to climb a big mountain, so I went there and I climbed it. It wasn’t too hard and the view from the top was lovely.” – it wouldn’t be too inspirational. It is what she had to overcome, the unexpected obstacles, the discovery of previously hidden strength – that I want.
This reminds me of rule number 6 from Kurt Vonnegut on rules for telling a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.” Pope Paul VI
The Opposite of Fragile
What is the opposite of fragile? I hear you saying “robust”, “strong”, “durable”, “flexible” or even “unbreakable”… but these words are not the opposite, they are the zero point on the line from breaks under pressure to grows under pressure.
A wine glass when dropped on the concrete floor will smash. It is fragile. A plastic glass when dropped on the concrete floor will not smash. It is “flexible and robust”. However, there are some systems that when dropped, they come back even stronger.
Nasim Taleb coined the term “Antifragile” for things that grow under stress. Evolution is a process by which species become stronger when stressed. When I go to the gym, I actually damage my muscles – but they grow stronger as they repair. A broken bone will heal stronger than the surrounding bone.
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” Peter Marshall
We humans are “antifragile”. We learn and grow faster in the struggle than in the garden.