Understanding the concept of antifragility through mythology: Damocles, the phoenix and the Hydra
The opposite of fragile is not robust, as we might think, neither is it solid, or resistant, but “antifragile”, a buzzword that indicates something or someone capable of withstanding trauma and shocks and able to draw benefit from them.
Ancient mythology offers us three examples of fragile, robust and antifragile. The first of our three characters is Damocles; he was an example of fragility, in that he was allowed to take part in a sumptuous banquet, while a sword hung over his head, tied to the ceiling by a horsehair. Damocles was fragile because that horse hair was sure to break sooner or later, it was simply a matter of time.
The phoenix on the other hand, was a robust creature, because it had the power to rise from the ashes, and to be reborn exactly as it was before, without evolving in any way.
The Hydra was similar to a reptile, with several heads, and each time one of its heads was chopped off, two grew back in its place. It was an antifragile creature because it was able to derive benefits from being harmed.
The more societies evolve and become complex, the more they are exposed to strong trauma and cycles of collapse, and this phenomenon is inevitable, so to counterbalance success, we need a large dose of robustness and a heavy sprinkling of antifragility. If we deprive a system of stress factors, we are in fact doing it more harm than good. We need to aspire to be like the Phoenix or the Hydra, otherwise, sooner or later, the sword of Damocles will strike us.