All Swans are White…
Nassim Nicholas Taleb recently wrote “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” Trying to summarize the book would not do it justice. It’s a good read, with fascinating ideas and observations, but to fully comprehend Taleb’s enthusiasm for the subject at hand, you have to read the book.
However, the book is basically a case for how improbable events affect our lives and our world.
Here is one example from Taleb’s pen….
Over 300 years ago, it was a popular belief that all swans were white. Every bit of evidence confirmed this to be true. But in the late 17th century, the discovery of an Australian species of black swans completely destroyed any previous notion that all swans are white. It did not matter anymore that thousands of years of recorded history had only produced the undeniable truth that swans were white, because with the first sighting of a black swan, the undeniable truth was rendered false.
Here’s another - picture this, every day for three years a farmer cares for a turkey. The turkey has its own pen, and is fed daily by the farmer. The farmer’s daughter cleans out the pen, and she bathes the turkey every week.
The turkey’s beliefs are reinforced every day that he can trust the farmer and his family.
This pattern of care is continued every day for three years until one Wednesday in November when the farmer, carrying an ax, takes the turkey out behind the barn and … well, the next day is Thanksgiving.
What happens from the turkey’s standpoint is totally improbable from his life’s history. Seconds before his demise the turkey’s trust in the farmer is completely destroyed.
It did not matter that for his whole life the turkey considered these people trusted family. His whole perspective changed in a matter of seconds – like those who thought all swans were white.
After reading Taleb’s book I began reading Nehemiah, our subject for the month of November. Both books are entertaining and thought provoking.
Thousands of years ago our brother Nehemiah saw a problem and was extremely distressed. Instead of complaining or wallowing in self-pity and grief he took action. He gave up a life that was comfortable and a position that provided great wealth to return to his homeland. He rallied his countrymen to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. This cupbearer set out with an improbable goal, and with God’s help achieved it in record time.
If Nehemiah had told anyone that he was going to achieve rebuilding this wall in 52 days, they would have told him he was nuts. Then if he told them he was going to do it with a team of perfume makers, nobles - known slackers, goldsmiths, priests, local neighbors and their families, politicians, and a few local merchants they would have certainly wrote him off.
Why? Because it had never been done before – it was the Black Swan of their time. It was an extremely large task, it was not a professional construction crew – each had other professions - but Nehemiah knew he had God on his side, and because of that – the improbable was possible.
I like to learn backwards – from history that is. One thing that we can learn from our history books is that life can suddenly change - like our Nation’s did on September 11th or like that of the Jews during Hitler’s reign.
History and civilizations do not crawl along. They make huge jumps. However, we tend to believe that it takes forever to make changes in our lives and in our world.
I like the examples that Ezra provides us about Nehemiah. He started everything with a prayer. He developed a plan, and knew it was possible with God’s help.
“What would you do if you knew the universe would not let you fail?” I have challenged myself to answer this question and I challenge you to find your own answer.
Our history is not a projection of our future.