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

“We Know the Best of Us Did Not Return”

Written by: on December 9, 2023


To say that Nassim Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, is highly controversial is an understatement. Some have read his book and his prior two books, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness, and found Antifragile disappointing and sometimes contradictory to his earlier works. Then, a select group thinks he is “pretentious, judgmental, self-indulgent”[1] and more. Therefore, they regard the book as exhausting. Still, others found that the book offered some insights into how we should view current systems and our personal lives and learn how to become antifragile. For the remainder of the blog, I will highlight a few lessons from his work and then apply my interpretation of the antifragile lessons to two critical and complex issues facing us today – the U.S. healthcare system and the Church.

Four Lessons

I learned four lessons about Taleb’s work from various sources. The first lesson is that antifragile things benefit from chaos.[2] Chaos or unpredictable events cause those things, think of antique China, to break and hence are classified as fragile. No matter how much care and attention is given to the antique China, it will remain breakable. However, antifragile things require less care when chaos strikes. The second lesson is that antifragile activities may be unusual now, but they will be beneficial in the future.[3] The most apparent type of example is exercise. In his article, ‘Teaching and Learning from an Antifragile Perspective’ on page 116, the author discussed his son learning judo. The judo lesson is taught by doing, and the participants learn to react and adapt to different moves while growing physically more robust. Thirdly, predictability and consistency create fragile systems.[4] I’m reminded of our educational system and its continued use of predictable educational models that demonstrate they are not working. Students are less and less prepared to tackle the world and certainly not ready for the potential chaos and upheaval we may experience in the next decade. Again, the author in ‘Teaching and Learning’ recommends that school systems adopt methods to help students prepare for emergent challenges by teaching students’ personal agency, focusing on the ability to critically assess, adjust, and make wise choices over time.[5] The fourth lesson is that a fragile system composed of many interconnected parts learns to evolve and adapt by discarding weaker parts and may even mutate.[6] In doing so, it becomes stronger and antifragile.

Fragile Healthcare

Two systems in the U.S. come to mind when I think of the antifragile lessons: the healthcare system and the Church. Both experienced a significant and unpredictable event, as we all did when COVID-19 hit in March 2020. Let’s explore the healthcare system first. For years before COVID-19, there has been a shortage of healthcare workers. For example, in the preceding years leading up to the pandemic in the community college systems in North Carolina, there were thousands of people on the waiting lists to start their medical careers – particularly for LPNs and registered nurses. From the beginning of the pandemic, the healthcare system broke. There was a shortage of staff for obvious reasons. The breakage revealed a system unprepared for a pandemic of this nature for many reasons.  Still, the most obvious was that it lacked proper equipment and could not provide specialized care.[7] According to the article ‘Global Challenges to Public HealthCare Systems,’ there has been an influx of mobile apps to streamline and improve telehealth medicine since the pandemic.[8] Perhaps other articles recommend more robust measures for the U.S. healthcare system because streamlining telemedicine appears to be putting a Band-Aid on a dam that will likely break again. Today, the fragile healthcare system remains fragile. What lessons did we learn from the pandemic, and how can the system get rid of the parts that did not work, such as unequal access, inability to provide specialized care, and broken medical supply chains? The healthcare system has been unable to adapt and grow stronger to deliver quality, specialized treatment based on ethnicity, and equal access to (affordable) medical care to those in need. Instead, it has adapted to grow bottom-line profits.

Fragile Church

The second institutional system I’m reminded of is the Church. We know that during COVID-19, there was a severe drop in church attendance. However, Pew Research and other studies demonstrate that Church attendance was declining.[9] Many churches closed for good during the pandemic, but the closings were already happening before the pandemic.[10] Throughout the pandemic, some churches quickly adjusted, went to online services and were able to keep their doors open. Since the pandemic, in-person church attendance has decreased compared to the pre-pandemic levels. Many churches, ours, for example, have continued providing online services in addition to in-person services. But the real challenge is for the Church to recognize what parts are no longer working and begin to adapt or mutate. Responding with lukewarm, predictable changes, such as offering hybrid services, only weaken the Church. The hybrid services have a short-term benefit – but is that option keeping leaders from treating the symptom(s)? What will it take for the Church to become antifragile? One can argue that the Church institutions are still intact. Indeed, they are, and perhaps that is the issue. I recognize that some would say that “calling for a radical departure from institutions is analogous to large scale social engineering…it calls for a knowledge we do not yet possess.”[11]

I will respond to this thought of social re-engineering in my closing.


My final thought is this: building a bunker to escape the calamity seems to be a best practice. Once the storm has passed, people emerge to rebuild what once existed. At what point will repeated shocks break the individual or system so that rebuilding is no longer viable?[12] As Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl noted of his time in Auschwitz: “We have come back…we know the best of us did not return.”[13]


[1] Michiko Kakutani, ‘You Are All Soft! Embrace Chaos!,’ New York Times (December 16, 2012): 1, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/books/antifragile-by-nassim-nicholas-taleb.html.

[2] Top Seven Lessons, ANTI FRAGILE (by Nassim Nicholas Taleb) Book Summary, (August 23, 2023): 0:42, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYmS2gfw0TU.

[3] Ibid., 2:37

[4] Ibid., 3:22

[5] Bretton Polowy, ‘Teaching and Learning from an Anti-Fragile Perspective,’ Taboo 15, no. 1 (Spring, 2016): 114, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/teaching-learning-anti-fragile-perspective/docview/1789750096/se-2.

[6] Top Seven Lessons, ANTI FRAGILE (by Nassim Nicholas Taleb) Book Summary, (August 23, 2023): 1:35, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYmS2gfw0TU.

[7] Roxanna Filip, Roxanna Puscaelu, Liliana Anchidin-Norocel, Mihai Dimian, ‘Global Challenges to Public Health Care Systems during COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review of Pandemic Measures and Problems,’ Journal of Personalized Medicine, vol. 12, 8 1295. (Aug. 2022): 1, doi:10.3390/jpm12081295.

[8] Ibid., 1.

[9] Justin Nortey And Michael Rotolo, ‘How the Pandemic Has Affected Attendance at U.S. Religious Services,’ Pew Research, (MARCH 2023): 5, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2023/03/28/how-the-pandemic-has-affected-attendance-at-u-s-religious-services/.

[10] Ibid., 5.

[11] Ryan H. Murphy, ‘The Unconstrained Vision of Nassim Taleb,’ The Independent Review: 19, 3; 19, no. 3 (Winter 2014/2015): 433. https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/unconstrained-vision-nassim-taleb/docview/1643164506/se-2.

[12] Bretton Polowy, ‘Teaching and Learning from an Anti-Fragile Perspective,’ Taboo 15, no. 1 (Spring, 2016): 113, https://georgefox.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/teaching-learning-anti-fragile-perspective/docview/1789750096/se-2.

[13] Ibid., 113.

About the Author


Audrey Robinson

12 responses to ““We Know the Best of Us Did Not Return””

  1. Audrey – Wow, you tackled three huge issues in this blog 1) education 2) healthcare and 3)the church. Of those three, which do you feel has the greatest potential to become antifragile and why?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I would say the Church has the greatest potential to become antifragile because we serve a resurrected Lord. If we (the Church) cannot die to certain things and be made new – we are really on a slippery slope.

  2. Tonette Kellett says:

    Wow Audrey,

    You wrote from your heart, as you always do, with passion and zeal. I love that you wrote about education, the church, and healthcare… three issues that affect us all. Your closing quote is so powerful and sobering. I can’t wait for your curriculum to be finished that you are doing for your project. It will be equally fabulous!

  3. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Audrey – Great read. You gave a balanced review of Taleb and applied to two significant areas! I liked the examples you used for the church. I agree that churches closing is not the worst thing that can happen. Many of the churches were going to close in the next few years anyway. While other churches were able to adapt. The challenge was that many churches went back to “business as usual” once they could go to in-person. What characteristics do you think an antifragile church will have?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Dr. Chad,
      I have been mulling over the concept of shared leadership in the Church and how that might change the organizational structure. This was a thought that was planted years ago and it (the thought) continues to resurrect itself in some of our recent readings.

      Our current structure is tenuous and unpalatable to Millennials and Gen’Z.

  4. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Audrey, Thank you for your blog and the well-thought out approach to applying antifragility to the Church and the US healthcare system. I especially liked this quote: “But the real challenge is for the Church to recognize what parts are no longer working and begin to adapt or mutate.” I’m wondering what adaptations and mutations could be helpful for our local churches today, and which elements we could drop. I will be continuing to ponder this. Thank you for your blog which has encouraged me to think further!

    Hope you had a good weekend! See you tomorrow.

  5. mm Daron George says:


    Great post! In your analysis of Taleb’s “Antifragile” and its application to the healthcare system and the Church, how do you envision these institutions embracing chaos and disorder to evolve into more antifragile entities, while maintaining their core functions and values?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      Dr. Daron,
      Perhaps to keep it simple, if both of these institutions “flipped” their business model and became person centered that would be a great place to start. Start with the question, “if money was no object for the individual” what would healthcare and ministry services look like?

      Additionally, years ago I had a conversation with a co-worker and we discussed the problem with every church having a daycare or a school. Rather than duplicating expensive solutions – each church could major in what they do best and work together.

      What a shake up that would be!

  6. Audrey, Let’s talk church! I love the questions you rose and your willingness to questions the institution. You have great points in regards to the decline pre COVID and the accelerated decline that has occurred since. You have great questions valid points and I wanted to say I’m asking those questions as a local church pastor. My go to is to find the foundation in Jesus ministry… Jesus didn’t say build a church building and have large services and make sure that people give their offering to the church… actually he did the opposite he went out he went to people and he met them where they where… He avoided the institution and was often angry with it… What lessons do we have to learn from Jesus ministry and could we have maybe gotten our application a bit off set from our foundation as Christ followers?

    • mm Audrey Robinson says:

      I love, love, love that as a pastor you are asking those questions. I do think we have gotten off of the path of ministry and created our own model of what we think it should be. And you are on to something in that Jesus went out to the people. Have we re-constructed those same institutions He came to tear down?

      Prior to COVID-19, I have had a strong sense that the home based church is potentially going to see a resurgence. We shall see.

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