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

The Fragile Idea in Antifragile

Written by: on December 8, 2023

Much Too Delicate

In a recent conversation concerning resilience, I offered a thought that I described as The Great Dilemma in Parenting, which is the tendency to protect our children from harm while we know that the difficult situations will make them mentally, emotionally and spiritually stronger. If you have ever wondered how to navigate this dilemma, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has too and posits an observation – we are all much too fragile. That, itself, is a fragile idea in the manner that Taleb offers it. 

This is the premise of the book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. In the book, Taleb observes, “Some things benefit from shocks…Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.”[1] This should be enough to peak one’s curiosity, particularly if you have ever spent some time reflecting on your own resiliency and what contributed to it. In doing so, you will have noticed that it was the inevitable difficulty in life that made you stronger. If that is the case, than why do we avoid and attempt to eliminate suffering in very circumstance? The reality is that it is impossible to eliminate suffering due to Black Swan events which are “unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequence.”[2] The antidote is to choose to be antifragile and embrace the randomness of life. 

Antifragility Applied 

All of this seems captivating on the surface. Of course, one would rather be antifragile (the opposite is fragile, after all) the question is how this actually works in reality. Taleb is ready to answer this question through a wide-ranging romp across various disciplines such as economics, business, science, philosophy, parenting, education and evolutionary theory. Presented in a style meant to model the very antifragile perspective he is espousing, Taleb offers his observations in a number of situations, including how to have a proper lunch.[3] 

This is where antifragile becomes less attractive. Taleb offers observations where he sees fragile behavior on display and it reads like the domineering co-worker that will corner you with his latest insight. For example, Taleb rants, “I feel anger and frustration when I think that one in ten Americans beyond the age of high school is on some kind of antidepressant, such as Prozac. Indeed, when you go through mood swings, you now have to justify why you are not on some medication.”[4] This reads like the very confirmation bias that Taleb is reporting to speak against. Another example is of Taleb’s friend Chad (I do like the name) who had was subjected to imprisonment and extortion in a foreign country but is no longer subject to “touristification” and is now an adventurer.[5] I wonder if Chad feels the same way about his experience. 

There are other great observations about antifragility. One is the barbell example of how one should approach risk. Taleb argues that trying to mitigate risk by balancing between safety and risk is not a viable posture to take. Instead, he states, “For antifragility is the combination aggressiveness plus paranoia – clip your downside, protect yourself from extreme harm, and let the upside, the positive Black Swan, take care of itself.”[6]

Fragile Concept Maybe

What is the best perspective to the dilemma of protect or seek out suffering? I believe Taleb would say embrace the randomness and unpredictability of life knowing that you will suffer at times, but you won’t be fragile. You will be able to thrive when others are not able to. That is a compelling idea, yet it is a path that cannot be chosen for others. Parents have to use wisdom to know when to let their children fall down and when to catch them. Supervisors will have to use similar wisdom as they trust and empower their team. The trouble becomes when we prescribe antifragility to others, or more to the point, diagnosing others as fragile. The least you become is the awkward person who corners people with unwanted observations about life, politics and “kids these days.” At worse, you become a bully touting your awesomeness compared to your peers. I’m not sure which Taleb is, but his observations are worth considering. 

‌1. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand (Random House, 2012), 3. 

2. Ibid., 6. 

3. Ibid., 144. 

4. Ibid., 61. 

5. Ibid., 62-23. 

6. Ibid., 162

About the Author


Chad McSwain

Chad is a systematic creative serving in pastoral ministry for nearly 20 years, Chad is a professional question-asker and white-board enthusiast, who enjoys helping people discover their own passions and purpose. A life-long learner, he has a B.A, Philosophy - Univ. Central Oklahoma, M.A Theology - Fuller Seminary, M.Div. Perkins School of Theology at SMU and is pursuing a Doctor of Leadership - George Fox University. He is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving as Lead Pastor of Whitesboro UMC. Chad and his wife, Brandi live in Prosper, Texas along with their three children, two pugs and a chameleon.

13 responses to “The Fragile Idea in Antifragile”

  1. Michael O'Neill says:

    Great post, Chad. I’m really enjoying this book so far but I am still struggling with application. I fall into a lot of the “embrace the randomness” philosophy whereas my wife is the exact opposite and schedules things on our calendar months ahead of time. But when it comes to parenting and intentionally allowing suffering I will have to pass. I think the world is a little to fragile though. What about you?

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      I agree that the world is a little too fragile, well, our culture at least. I think the reason for our fragility is that we have not had to face a major cultural event since 9/11 (Thankfully). COVID is close and we are still living into the ramifications, but it didn’t force us to grow. We all had to just stay inside. There was never a challenge to grow from the difficulty we faced. What moments have helped you become the resilient person you are?

  2. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Chad, great observation and push-back to Taleb. I believe Taleb’s content has important application for our society right now. But there is a “going too far” side of this that you highlight. I guess it’s up to us to discern where to allow randomness to create antifragility and where to protect.

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      Agreed. That summarizes my thoughts of Taleb quite well. I like the concept and perspective he introduces but I think he generalizes his way of being antifragile, which was off-putting for me. I do think we all have to learn to do hard things.

  3. Chad – I really enjoyed reading this post. I can tell you spent a lot of time contemplating it! Resilience is the topic of my portfolio project, so I can confirm that the research shows we are indeed sheltering our kids too much these days to the point of their detriment. Taleb raises some great points, but does seem to make light of suffering. Scripture agrees that suffering is necessary to produce perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-4), but we certainly don’t need to CAUSE suffering, we just need to help people know how to respond when they do suffer. Can’t wait to share my doctoral work on that!

    • Tonette Kellett says:

      Chad and Laura,

      Resilience and students, in particular, are something I pondered when reading this book as well. Laura, I’m interested in your project – I think it has the potential to help so many families!

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      I look forward to hearing more about your research. I think Taleb is on to something but his presentation is undermines the points he makes. I think you have can make a reason contribution to this larger conversation.

  4. mm Audrey Robinson says:

    Great post. One article I read about Taleb’s work stated that resilience is not enough because the traditional model of resilience does not account for the uncertain conditions, emergent challenges and opportunities we face today. What other skills might children need to learn to be successful and handle the unpredictability?

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      Great question – perhaps allowing children to take on appropriate responsibilities earlier in their development. Things like being responsible for their own homework, chores around the house, balancing their bank account, making dinner, getting a job…all before they move out before they are 20 years old. What do you think?

  5. mm Daron George says:


    Enjoyed your post. Considering Taleb’s critique of risk mitigation strategies, what practical steps or approaches do you suggest for leaders and supervisors to cultivate an antifragile mindset in their teams, while avoiding the pitfalls of overexposure to stress or harm?

  6. Chad, Thank you for your post you raised some great thoughts and I really appreciate your look at parenting and how we are raising the next generation. There is value in asking those questions and really looking at how we bring together the idea of creating a capacity for risk! It raised some thoughts in my mind around my research project which is that when leaders experience leadership trauma they loose there capacity for risk and how do we begin to reclaim and re engage our ability to risk… I landed on play as a great way to reengage with risk. My thought then is how we have raised our children with play and the type of play that is encouraged in this generation… is it play that allows for risk taking or are we as leaders/parents mitigating risk opportunity for others/children? Now I have more to research and add to my work!

    • mm Chad McSwain says:

      This is fantastic! I hadn’t thought about leadership trauma impacting risk in leaders. It makes perfect sense and I resonate with that in my leadership. I was way more bold in my younger days and paid the price. I love the idea of play as a means to bring back risk and cooperation. Can’t wait to hear more!

  7. Kristy Newport says:

    Dear Chad,
    Good over view of Taleb.
    You bring up parenting in this post several times. You have shared with me about your daughter and her birth defect when she was born. I am sure this was a great challenge for you and your wife. I can not imagine the choices you needed to make for your little baby girl. I am curious how this has made you and your wife stronger? How has this been difficult at times …for you/your daughter? How has she turned this into something good. I see your daughters pictures on FB. She appears to be a vibrant and enthusiastic young lady.
    I am asking a lot here. Just know that I cant wait to hear the podcast when she is a guest.!!

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