The Black Swan of Aesop’s Fables

In The Black Swan, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb breaks down the impact of the highly improbable to explain the random events that underlie our lives, from best-selling novels to natural disasters. His stoicism offers some fantastic lessons, in particular when using one of Aesop’s famous fables to stress the importance of being in control of your life:

“A famished fox, seeing some bunches of grapes hanging from a vine which had grown in a tree, wanted to take some, but could not reach them. So he went away saying to himself: ‘Those are unripe’. Similarly, certain people, not being able to run their affairs well because of their inefficiency, blame the circumstances.” (The Complete Fables by Aesop, pp. 27)

This fable gave rise to the common English phrase ‘sour grapes’, now understood as one making a false pre-tense to form a rationalisation. Taleb assigns this as a defence mechanism however, and argues the case that rejecting the grapes in the first instance, without even attempting to reach them, is the aggressive form of thinking that will serve one best. As he puts it: “It is more difficult to be a loser in a game you set up yourself” (Taleb, pp. 297).

One is only exposed to the improbable if they first let it control them. Put the odds in your favour by fighting off the resistance and you will become that efficient person who need never place the blame on external circumstances ever again.


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