Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Go beyond resilience

Written by: on October 28, 2022

Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder was written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He also authored a NY Times best-selling book called The Black Swan in 2007. The Black Swan discusses the reality of our incomprehensible world impacted by the Black Swans – “large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequences.”[1] The Black Swan highlights the impossibility of the human capacity to predict nor calculate the cause and effects of the Black Swans. And in this book Antifragile, Taleb brings his vast life experiences and wisdom from being an essayist, mathematical statistician, distinguished professor, and hedge fund manager to be more Antifragile – a build a life and a world beyond “resilience or robustness… the antifragile gets better”[2] after every Black Swans. The book is divided into seven sections: 1. The antifragile 2. Modernity and the denial of antifragility 3. A nonpredictive view of the world 4. Optionality, technology, and the intelligence of antifragility 5. The nonlinear and the nonlinear 6. Via negativa 7. The ethics of fragility and antifragility. Through his lengthy and thorough discussions, Taleb asserts to build up a property of antifragility in our life, in our agencies, and in our world – To “deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them and do them well.”[3]

            I’m not too sure if Taleb got this line from Polanyi or perhaps it was his tacit knowledge, but he said, “we know more than we think we do, a lot more than we can articulate.”[4] The world in the past couple of years all suffered from a global Black Swan called Covid-19, and I wondered how much antifragility was built into our globally different countries and societies. As Taleb mentioned, we are somewhat “part of the present collective and future progeny. Both present and the future tribes exploited the fragility of individuals to strengthen themselves.”[5] In my view, chapters 21 and 22 offered prophetic insights into the aftermath of Covid-19. One of the rising global phenomena that I see affecting business, church, family, society, medicine, marketing, and almost all other arenas of our world is coming from these desires to live longer and live well after Covid-19. Every country and every church, and every government is scrambling now to build antifragility into their own organizations to live longer and better after Covid-19. History seems to reveal a circular cycle of Black Swans to Antifragility, death to resurrection. One of the greatest factors that separate from the 1st world to the rest of the 2nd and 3rd world are standards and availabilities of medicine and health care.

From our recent advance to Cape Town, I witnessed many of the instabilities of society and current fragilities within humanity’s conditions that were rooted out from the antifragility of the desire to live longer and live better. Even though they experienced one of the greatest victories in overcoming the apartheid injustice, the struggle didn’t stop there. The amazing victories from two decades ago are now transformed into a new disorder that demands a complete makeover in the housing crisis caused by a lack of quantities and rebuilding of equal standards in housing qualities. I was not confident that current political leaders would be capable of bringing that kind of level of reformation and transformation to South Africa. I think that in very similar ways, every leader is facing fragile expectations of desires to live longer and better, and richer. These empty messages of just living longer and better and richer are becoming more and more prevalent in our American society, and emerging young adults and youths are dreaming of becoming empty people that just want to be comfortable and rich. What builds resilience or, as Taleb would argue, builds antifragility? I would argue that the antifragility of life will begin from the moment that one accepts not just the morbidity of life but also the recognition of a creator who gives life as a gift. It is a gift that is required to shine forth in the midst of chaos and darkness.

[1] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Reprint edition (New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2014), 6.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid, 35.

[5] Ibid, 370.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

9 responses to “Go beyond resilience”

  1. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Jonathan. Thank you so very much for your engagement with Taleb’s writing. I especially appreciated you placing this book on antifragility into the context of his previous book, The Black Swan. Indeed, Covid-19 was a black swan event for the entire globe. You quote from Taleb, “Both present and the future tribes exploited the fragility of individuals to strengthen themselves.”[5] I’m curious how you would evaluate his read on history and the present day in light of what we read in Matthew’s Gospel of how the nations will be judged on their care of the most vulnerable or oppressed in their context (Matt 25:31-46)? What prophetic role for the church do you see in the potential tension between Taleb’s description of the world as it is and the view from God’s reality as described by Jesus in this parable?

    I was drawn to Taleb’s next two chapters, 23-24, as he engaged the ethical dimension of his above description and how ‘having skin in the game’ can mitigate humanity’s tendency to sacrifice the fragile to build-up their own anti-fragility. I’d love to hear your evaluation of his ethical proposition if you have a moment.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Ty for your comment and questions Elmarie.

      I believe the church and the individual Christian play a very important prophetic and preserving role for God’s will for each generation. In every era, I believe there is a certain role and commission that God calls the church and each believer to fulfill the needs for the oppressed and vulnerable. Each mission and calling will be different according to their context and we are responsible to work together to care for the oppressed and vulnerable. But one thing I am observing regarding the oppressed and the vulnerable is that it is splitting the faith community into widely 2 views either to help and serve them or protect and guard against them.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Jonathan: Interesting connections that you made with the reading this week. Towards the end you state, “emerging young adults and youths are dreaming of becoming empty people that just want to be comfortable and rich.” As you’ve engaged with your NPO, are there certain components you think the church needs to focus on with you to combat this and build in a different aspirational capital?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Kayli!

      One area in our Korean American faith can grow is the area of teaching and disciplining how to practically connect our faith into our daily lives. And helping the parents to model and teach this to their children is an important area to facilitate.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, thanks for your excellent post. As you work with youth in the Bay Area, how do you try to cast a vision for more than a “comfortable and rich” life with your students?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Roy!

      I try to reiterate again and again that life cannot be abundant and successful if they try to just pursue rich and comfortable. They need to dream vision that is bigger than themselves which can only be given from our creator and designer. Meaning and fulfillment of life will come as they build their life to be givers.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Jonathan, I also noticed this connection: “we know more than we think we do, a lot more than we can articulate.” I didn’t determine the timing of who wrote it first, but yes, more or less the same.

    I like this line (below), but I’m not sure I fully understand what you are saying. Can you tell me more?

    I would argue that the antifragility of life will begin from the moment that one accepts not just the morbidity of life but also the recognition of a creator who gives life as a gift.

  5. mm Troy Rappold says:

    I like your comment about how people and organizations and countries are now trying to build antifragility into themselves. I think Covid provides an opportunity…now that so much of church has moved to an online campus, some churches will take advantage of this development and benefit from it. I wonder how many pastors are even thinking of it in these terms?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Jonathan, thanks for a well written post. I was particularly drawn to your connections to our recent Covid experiences, as type of Black Swan. You also tied in the differences of varies economic societies. I am wondering if the privileges of the 1st robbed us of the possibility of building “antifragility” among us more than those who live in less economically prosperous regions?
    You also highlighted the current challenges in South Africa and the apparent need for the rise of new antifragile leaders. According to Taleb is it possible for someone to rise from within the hardships South Africa is currently facing? What would it take for such an event to occur?

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