A fire wishing for wind: Gifts from randomness
“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
My husband and I had to roll with randomness twice recently.
The first time was two weekends ago when we planned a trip to London, ON to see my son at university. It was my birthday, so we were fulfilling my wish to get a birthday hug from both my children before the weekend was out. Our plan was to get up on Saturday morning, relax, do some reading, maybe some gardening and then meander down to stay with some friends in Kingston, ON on Saturday night. From there we would rise early on Sunday morning and drive to London to watch my son pitch from the bullpen in baseball game and have a quick visit.
Then . . . at 9:45 on Saturday morning my son sent a text: “I’m in Toronto with the team, and I just found out I’m starting the 2:00 game.” We live a 4-hour drive away from Toronto. I hadn’t showered or packed or prepared in any way, but we ran with it. We threw a few things in an overnight back, contacted our friends in Kingston to adjust the timing, and drove like stink to Toronto.
This unexpected series of events worked out better than our original plan. We got to watch our son be the starting pitcher in a game instead of coming in out of the bullpen, I got to see him on my actual birthday instead of the day after, and when we arrived at our friend’s house in Kingston later, we had nowhere to rush off to, so we enjoyed a leisurely visit and a walk in the conservation area behind their house.
The second gift of randomness arrived on our wedding anniversary. Our plan was to attend a presentation that a friend of ours was giving at the Chateau Laurier for the Canadian Public Relations Society and then go out to dinner. We started our anniversary evening at the Chateau Laurier and enjoyed the event and the opportunity to see our friend.
But when we walked him to the front door where he planned to catch a taxi to the airport, we discovered there was not a taxi in sight. We tried the hotel down the street, where a line-up of taxis always lingers. No luck. There is unrest in the taxi industry in Ottawa at the moment. Our friend was starting to panic about missing his flight, so we said, “We’ll drive you.”
After we dropped him off, my husband and I said, “What now?” We hadn’t anticipated being in the airport part of the city. We decided to head back to our neighbourhood and go to a restaurant that used to be one of our haunts when we were newly married and childless.
Again the surprising series of events worked out better than our original plan. We would never have thought of that restaurant otherwise, so we would have ended up somewhere less meaningful. Now that we are long-married and into empty nest childlessness, we felt like we had come full circle, and the restaurant felt exactly right.
“If you are not a washing machine or a cuckoo clock—in other words, if you are alive—something deep in your soul likes a certain measure of randomness and disorder.” —Nassim Nicholas Taleb
While all this was happening, I was reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. He suggests that systems—and people, marriages and families are systems—need some stress and agitation. Instead of resisting uncertainty, chaos, chance, volatility or disorder, or being extinguished by them like a candle, we should feed off them.
Not just survive, but thrive. Be the fire and wish for the wind. Sometimes it works out better than the original plan.