Let's Talk About Fragility

Because we hardly would ever say that — “you are fragile” — as a compliment.

Four things that I think are important to remember here, not as an end but as a starting point (rooted in the truth as best as I can see it):

1.. The quality of fragility abounds in nature — including but not limited to snowflakes.

(Which, if you’re not familiar, is a common diss, originally of the “liberal snowflake” variety but now something that’s been taken by all sorts of groups. It means the recipient of the metaphor is not able to handle any more than a tiny amount of stress, or conflict; that they break too easily.)


2. And the thing is: it’s a quality. It’s not something you are or aren’t any more than you are or aren’t nice — we’ve all been kind and we’ve all been a’holes.

And it’s a transient quality, depending on all sorts of things, just like whether you are warm right now, or your bladder is full, is a transient quality. You’re not “someone with a full bladder” as a kind of permanent status. You are that until you aren’t … until you drink more water and are again …


3. It’s also one ingredient that co-exists with other ingredients. Even with anti-fragility — which if you’re not familiar with Nassim Taleb’s idea, I’d highly recommend googling it; it’s a really beautiful concept and, yes, it’s different than “resilient” or “robust" —

Like the bones of our body. Are they fragile or anti-fragile? Yes to both. They both “thrive on randomness, stressors and error” (an anti-fragile quality) and are harmed by too much stress (a fragile quality).

All living systems are this way, from cells to whales.


4. Lastly, consider back to point #1, can someone be too fragile? Of course. It’s probably really good medicine for a lot of us to buck the f’ up.

AND … and … consider the autonomic nervous system.

Consider what any animal does when in a deeply contracted fear state. That’s a fragile state. It’s very, very tender.

And sometimes you help that animal out by telling it to toughen up, and some of the time you do so by helping that animal feel safe, and watch as it begins to display more anti-fragile properties of its own accord.

(And of course we may be more than, but we certainly are, animals.)


Fragile systems are a part of nature’s wisdom. And from this wisdom, we also know they are not a life sentence: They can be affected, for better or worse, by you and by me.