The “Adventure” and “Fun” of Driving Cars

(p. B6) For one Monday in early December, the New York Stock Exchange played the role of vintage car museum. At one end of Broad Street, outside the exchange, sat a high-roofed and stately 1921 Duesenberg coupe. At the other, a fearsome 1966 Ford GT40 racecar. Between them, encased in a glass vitrine, was an imperturbably cheery 1967 Porsche 911S.

Shaking hands by the coffee stand was McKeel Hagerty. The chief executive of the classic car insurance company that bears his name, Mr. Hagerty was there to ring the opening bell, and celebrate the first day of trading for his newly public company (HGTY). Later, at a brunch in the Big Board’s boardroom, Mr. Hagerty wielded a ceremonial gavel and said, “This is only just the beginning.”

The origins of Hagerty, the company, are far humbler. It was founded by his parents, Frank and Louise, in 1984, in their basement in Traverse City, Mich., as a boutique insurer of wooden boats.

In the early 1990s, the company began insuring collectible cars. With Mr. Hagerty at the helm, it has become one of the largest indemnifiers of vintage vehicles, with over two million classics on its rolls. The actuarial data necessary to determine repair and replacement costs on these cars has also made it a foremost authority on their valuation.

. . .

Hagerty went public via a SPAC, or special-purpose acquisition company, raising roughly $265 million in the process with a goal of expanding. So, what are Hagerty’s ambitions now? And why did it need to become a publicly traded company in order to achieve them?

“The purpose of the company is to save driving and car culture,” Mr. Hagerty said flatly, as we piloted a zippy, Hagerty-insured 1972 BMW 2002 tii toward the tip of Lower Manhattan. “If we’re going to save car culture, we have to make investments outside of the core business, and really help create a whole ecosystem.” Achieving this lofty goal required hundreds of millions of dollars in additional investment, he said: “That would have been tough for us to afford just as a private company.”

. . .

Outside experts agreed with this assessment of Mr. Hagerty’s vocation. “They encourage driving. Their tag lines all the time are, ‘Drive your cars,’” Mr. Gross said. “In some ways, you think, that’s a little strange for an insurance company. You think they’d want you to drive as little as possible to minimize the risk.” He laughed.

Instead, Mr. Hagerty said he sincerely wants to help people find the pleasure in “the experiential sides” of the automobile, those organized around adventure, preservation, culture and legacy. “I think that if we can help steward along the reasons that people drive and love cars, other than to get from Point A to Point B, then we win.”

Mr. Gross concurred with this plan. “I don’t know how many companies there are that take the long way around. And that’s what Hagerty is doing here. They’re not only selling insurance. They’re trying to make sure that the reason you need that insurance is viable and fun, and lots of people are doing it,” he said. “As a business strategy, it’s pretty smart.”

For the full commentary, see:

Brett Berk. “A Classic Car Insurer’s Vision to ‘Save Driving’.” The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 17, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 16, 2021, and has the title “A Classic Car Giant With a Lofty Mission: Save Driving.”)

Concentrating at the Office Can Be Harder than Concentrating at Home

(p. A4) Many people returning to offices are starting to wonder how they ever managed to be productive in a place with so many distractions. On top of standard interruptions to the workday that have long existed—say, small talk while making a fresh cup of coffee—there are now new temptations and annoyances (depending on whom you ask) spawned by staggered schedules, hybrid work, and the pandemic-induced realization that socializing can be exhausting.

. . .

Valerie Warshaw, 40, an interior designer with an architecture firm in Richmond, Va., also has trouble focusing with people chatting near her desk, but for different reasons.

“I get distracted just from hearing other people’s conversation and then I’m like, ‘Ooh! I want to chime in on that,’ ” she said. “The group that I’m in is very social.”

. . .

Her noise-canceling AirPods can help but have a downside: she gets startled when people come up behind her desk without warning. Ms. Warshaw has learned the best way to get anything done is to barricade herself in a conference room.

“People don’t disturb you because they think you’re on a call,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Katherine Bindley. “Working From Work Can Be Hard.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated December 17, 2021, and has the title “Working From Work Is Harder Than It Sounds.”)

Firm Founders May Be More Innovative Than Professional Managers

(p. B11) In tech, there is often a visionary premium and it is at least somewhat justified. Tracking public companies’ performance over 25 years, Bain & Co. found the companies that best maintained profitable growth over the long term were disproportionately those at which the founder was still running the business, was still involved or where the founders’ operational focus was still in place. Based on an analysis of S&P 500 companies done in 2014, Bain found that founder-led companies generated over three times the indexed total shareholder return of other companies in the preceding 15 years. One wonders how much the study is affected by survivorship bias, though—those who flopped early aren’t in the sample.

Founders certainly are bolder. A 2016 study out of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University found that founder CEOs are more likely to take their companies in a new technological direction, providing evidence that innovations of founder CEO-managed firms create more financial value than the innovations of professional CEO-managed firms.

Apple, which languished as a computer company in the years after its co-founder Steve Jobs was ousted, offers a twist on this phenomenon. Mr. Jobs returned as a savior. Among other things, he changed the company’s name from Apple Computer Inc. to Apple Inc., signaling an expansion of focus to a legacy that now includes the likes of the iPod, iPhone, Apple TV and more.

. . .

Mr. Dorsey’s major shortcoming at Twitter actually was a lack of such bold innovation. Activist investors who began calling for his departure years before it came have long pushed for faster product development and bigger revenue and user targets. They also took issue with the fact that Mr. Dorsey split his time as the chief of two publicly traded companies. When questioned at a shareholder meeting about his split time, Mr. Dorsey responded that it wasn’t a function of time, but of prioritization. During his second stint as chief executive over the course of more than six years, Twitter’s stock rose just one-fifth as much as the S&P 500.

Perhaps he prioritized his payments company, which is around 20 times as valuable today than it was in late 2015 when it went public. There are many current examples of tech companies still excelling with a founder or co-founder at the top. Nvidia and Shopify, which have returned more than 80,000% and nearly 6,000% to shareholders, respectively, since their public debuts, come to mind.

For the full commentary, see:

Laura Forman. “HEARD ON THE STREET; Many Tech Founders Can’t Stay Too Long.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 7, 2021): B11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 6, 2021, and has the title “HEARD ON THE STREET; Should Investors Ride Tech Founders to the Moon?”)

I cannot find evidence that the Krannert School of Management paper mentioned above has been published. An abstract appeared as:

Lee, Joon Mahn, Jongsoo Jays Kim, and Bae Joonhyung. “Are Founder CEOs Better Innovators? Evidence from S&P 500 Firms.” Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings 2016.

Covid-19 Raised Our Blood Pressure

(p. A12) On Monday [Dec. 6, 2021], scientists reported that blood pressure measurements of nearly a half-million adults showed a significant rise last year, compared with the previous year.

These measurements describe the pressure of blood against the walls of the arteries. Over time, increased pressure can damage the heart, the brain, blood vessels, kidneys and eyes. Sexual function can also be affected.

“These are very important data that are not surprising, but are shocking,” said Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association, who was not involved in the study.

“Even small changes in average blood pressure in the population,” he added, “can have a huge impact on the number of strokes, heart failure events and heart attacks that we’re likely to be seeing in the coming months.”

The study, published as a research letter in the journal Circulation, is a stark reminder that even in the midst of a pandemic that has claimed more than 785,000 American lives and disrupted access to health care, chronic health conditions must still be managed.

. . .

“We observed that people weren’t exercising as much during the pandemic, weren’t getting regular care, were drinking more and sleeping less,” said Dr. Luke Laffin, the lead author, a preventive cardiologist who is co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic. “We wanted to know, was their blood pressure changing during the pandemic?”

The researchers found that blood pressure readings changed little from 2019 to the first three months of 2020, but increased significantly from April 2020 through December 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

. . .

The new study found that the average monthly change from April 2020 to December 2020, compared with the previous year, was 1.10 mm Hg to 2.50 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure, and 0.14 to 0.53 for diastolic blood pressure.

The increases held true for both men and women, and in all age groups. Larger increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were seen in women.

The average age of the study participants was just over 45, and slightly more than half were women.

. . .

The causes of an overall increase in blood pressure are not clear, Dr. Laffin and his colleagues said. The reasons may include an increase in alcohol consumption, a decline in exercise, rising stress, a drop in doctors’ visits and less adherence to a medication regimen.

The researchers dismissed a possible effect of weight gain, known to raise blood pressure, saying that the men in the study had lost weight and that the women had not gained more weight than usual.

For the full story, see:

Roni Caryn Rabin. “Does the Pandemic Have Your Blood Pressure Rising? You’re Not Alone.” The New York Times (Tuesday, December 7, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 6, 2021, and has the title “The Pandemic Has Your Blood Pressure Rising? You’re Not Alone.”)

The study summarized above is:

Laffin, Luke J., Harvey W. Kaufman, Zhen Chen, Justin K. Niles, Andre R. Arellano, Lance A. Bare, and Stanley L. Hazen. “Rise in Blood Pressure Observed among Us Adults During the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Circulation (2021) Published online: https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.121.057075.

Good Anxiety “Helps Us Rebound and Refocus”

(p. A15) “Good Anxiety” is especially effective in arguing that anxiety shouldn’t be something we seek to hide, numb or even fix. Instead we can use it as a form of energy, thanks to the power of brain plasticity, our ability to rewire this potentially destructive response process. It’s what enables us to learn how to calm down, reassess situations and reframe our thoughts and feelings. “Anxiety is changeable, adaptable like any other feature of our brain,” Ms. Suzuki argues. The promise of her book, she writes, is a better understanding of “how anxiety works in the brain and body” so that we can learn how to adjust our own misfiring neurons.

Anxiety can even give us “hidden superpowers.” Resilience, for example, is learned through dealing with stress, and helps us rebound and refocus after difficult, challenging events. Even bigger payoffs come, Ms. Suzuki suggests, by adopting what she calls an “activist mindset”—the belief that we can reframe our thoughts in a positive and opportunistic way. This gives us agency over how we react to situations. “When it feels like a door has slammed on you, anxiety can lead you to feel like there’s no way out of the room; the activist mindset allows you to take a step back and look for a window,” she writes.

. . .

If anxiety is uncontrolled, our focus is liable to turn sour: Overstating real or imagined threats leads to hypervigilance and dwelling on danger. But Ms. Suzuki argues that anxiety plays a role in executive function, the interaction between attention, thinking and emotion, where it can be used for good. By decreasing distractions, meditating, exercising and transforming a “what-if” list into a productive “to-do” list, anxious thinkers can channel their energy toward progress.

For the full review, see:

Taylor Cromwell. “BOOKSHELF; The Upside Of Worry.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Sept. 17, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Good Anxiety’ Review: The Upside of Worry.”)

The book under review is:

Suzuki, Wendy. Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion. New York: Atria Books, 2021.

Entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield Failed With “Glitch” Before Succeeding With “Slack”

(p. A15) Entrepreneur Stewart Butterfield once tried to build a multiplayer online game but switched to photo sharing, selling Flickr to Yahoo in 2005 for $25 million. Success, but not a home run in Silicon Valley. Mr. Butterfield left Yahoo in 2008 to help found a company called Tiny Speck and build another multiplayer online game called “Glitch.” Persistence! “Glitch” attracted tens of thousands of gamers, but not enough to cover its costs, so Mr. Butterfield killed it in 2012.

Tiny Speck pivoted, which in Silicon Valley means fail and scramble to do something else. The company had built its own crude internal communications system for employees to chat digitally during the development of “Glitch.” Maybe others would use it. Seven months after they started work on Slack, the company announced its preview release. On the first day of the press blitz, 8,000 people requested the preview version. In February 2014 Slack had 16,000 users and by November it had 285,000, with 73,000 paying for it. Now more than 10 million people use it daily. Mr. Butterfield sold Slack to Salesforce for $27.7 billion last year. That’s failing upward!

For the full commentary, see:

Andy Kessler. “INSIDE VIEW; Failure Is Always an Option.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 18, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date October 17, 2021, and has the title “INSIDE VIEW; Failure Was Always an Option for Elizabeth Holmes.”)

Precise Decisions Can Be Fairer (But Can You Be Precisely Wrong?)

There’s a famous quote, usually wrongly attributed to Keynes that ‘it’s better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong.’ In a new book “noise” refers to inconsistent decisions, that need not be biased in any consistent way. But consistency is not the only value that matters. Academics are sometimes evaluated on the basis of the number of articles they publish. If this is done conscientiously, then the evaluation is consistent, and in that sense “fair.” But maybe there are other criteria that are harder to measure, but that matter more, like the profundity and insight of what is published. Evaluating on the basis of well-measured criteria, that matter less, rather than poorly-measured criteria, that matter more, may increase unfairness in a deeper sense.

(p. 10) A study at an oncology center found that the diagnostic accuracy of melanomas was only 64 percent, meaning that doctors misdiagnosed melanomas in one of every three lesions.

When two psychiatrists conducted independent reviews of 426 patients in state hospitals, they came to the equivalent of a tossup: agreement 50 percent of the time on what kind of mental illness was present.

. . .

Doctors are more likely to order cancer screenings for patients they see early in the morning than late in the afternoon.

. . .

In a study of the effectiveness of putting calorie counts on menu items, consumers were more likely to make lower-calorie choices if the labels were placed to the left of the food item rather than the right.

“When calories are on the left, consumers receive that information first and evidently think ‘a lot of calories!’ or ‘not so many calories!’ before they see the item,” Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein explain in this tour de force of scholarship and clear writing. “By contrast, when people see the food item first, they apparently think ‘delicious!’ or ‘not so great!’ before they see the calorie label. Here again, their initial reaction greatly affects their choices.” This hypothesis is supported, the authors write in a typically clever aside, by the “finding that for Hebrew speakers, who read right to left, the calorie label has a significantly larger impact if it is on the right rather than the left.”

These inconsistencies are all about noise, which Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein define as “unwanted variability in judgments.”

. . .

As the authors explain in their introduction, a team of target shooters whose shots always fall to the right of the bull’s-eye is exhibiting a bias, as is a judge who always sentences Black people more harshly. That’s bad, but at least they are consistent, which means the biases can be identified and corrected. But another team whose shots are scattered in different directions away from the target is shooting noisily, and that’s harder to correct. A third team whose shots all go to the left of the bull’s-eye but are scattered high and low is both biased and noisy.

Despite its prominence in so many realms of human judgment, the authors note that “noise is rarely recognized,” let alone counteracted. Which is why the parade of noise examples that the authors provide are so compelling, and why gathering the examples in one place to demonstrate the cost of noise and then suggesting noise reduction techniques, or “decision hygiene,” makes this book so important. We are living in a moment of rampant polarization and distrust in the fundamental institutions that underpin civil society. Eradicating the noise that leads to random, unfair decisions will help us regain trust in one another.

“Noise” seems certain to make a mark by calling attention to the problem and providing a tangible guide to reducing it. Despite the authors’ intimidating academic credentials, they take pains to explain, even with welcome redundancy, their various categories of noise, the experiments and formulas that they introduce, as well as their conclusions and solutions.

For the full review, see:

Steven Brill. “No Chance.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, May 30, 2021): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 18, 2021, and has the title “For a Fairer World, It’s Necessary First to Cut Through the ‘Noise’.”)

The book under review is:

Kahneman, Daniel, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein. Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment. New York: Little, Brown Spark, 2021.

Volatile Investor Goaded WeWork Entrepreneur “to Think Bigger”

(p. B1) Adam Neumann and Masayoshi Son were negotiating a possible $20 billion check when Mr. Son pulled up an image of Yoda on his iPad.

It was summer 2018 and Mr. Son’s tech conglomerate, SoftBank Group Corp., had already pumped over $4 billion into WeWork, the shared office space startup Mr. Neumann co-founded eight years earlier. Now Mr. Neumann was trying to get Mr. Son to buy a majority stake in WeWork. It would have been the largest acquisition ever of a startup, part of a bid to turbocharge a three-pronged strategy to dominate global real estate.

Mr. Son, a risk-taking investor who likened his gut-based strategy of “use the force” to that of the bat-eared Star Wars Jedi, was visibly excited that his new disciple was pushing for such an ambitious plan. Mr. Neumann, more than 20 years younger than Mr. Son and roughly a foot taller, charted out (p. B6) gargantuan growth projections in presentation after presentation throughout the summer. Mr. Son, scribbling on his iPad, calculated WeWork would be worth $10 trillion in a decade, more than 10 times the price tag of Apple at the time, the world’s most valuable company.

Still, Mr. Son kept urging Mr. Neumann to think bigger.

WeWork’s salespeople, real estate professionals and buildings numbered in the low hundreds. Mr. Son, though, told Mr. Neumann each category needed to grow—to 10,000. On his iPad, he commemorated the dictate.

“10k, 10k, 10k!” Mr. Son wrote in yellow, above Yoda grasping a green lightsaber. He signed below: “Masa.”

Fourteen months later, WeWork underwent one of the most spectacular corporate meltdowns of the decade.

. . .

Mr. Neumann, a long-haired, energetic entrepreneur, started WeWork after struggling to build a baby-clothes business in New York, where he moved from Israel in 2001.

. . .

Following a dinner with Walter Isaacson, biographer of Steve Jobs, he gathered staff around to read a complimentary email from the author. He told his employees he wanted Mr. Isaacson to write a biography about him.

. . .

Playing a role in Mr. Neumann’s growing ambitions was Mr. Son, who was frequently needling Mr. Neumann to think bigger.

At a meal in Tokyo with Mr. Son and Cheng Wei, CEO of Chinese ridehail giant Didi Global Inc., Mr. Son told Mr. Neumann that the Didi CEO beat out Uber Technologies Inc. in China not because he was smarter than Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Mr. Cheng was crazier, Mr. Son said.

On the same Tokyo trip, Mr. Son asked Mr. Neumann who would win a fight between a smart guy and a crazy guy, according to people familiar with the conversation. He told Mr. Neumann that being crazy is how you win and that Mr. Neumann was not crazy enough, according to these people.

Roughly a year later at another meeting in Tokyo, Mr. Son clicked on a promotional video of SoftBank-backed Oyo Hotels & Homes, led by the then 24-year-old Ritesh Agarwal. Oyo was growing far faster than WeWork, Mr. Son told Mr. Neumann, ribbing him about lagging behind his SoftBank-backed counterpart, whom Mr. Son equated with a sibling.

“Your little brother is going to beat you,” Mr. Son told Mr. Neumann, according to people familiar with the conversation. “He is being bolder than you.”

Following meetings like this, Mr. Neumann often pushed for bigger ideas, aides said.

For the full commentary, see:

Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell. “The We That Didn’t Work.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 17, 2021): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “The We That Didn’t Work at WeWork.”)

The commentary quoted above is based on the authors’ book:

Brown, Eliot, and Maureen Farrell. The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion. New York: Crown, 2021.

As Chinese Marxists Limit Liberty, the Young Show “Silent Resistance” by “Lying Down”

(p. 4) Five years ago, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle “lying flat.”

“I have been chilling,” Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April [2021], describing his way of life. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

He titled his post “Lying Flat Is Justice,” attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society.

. . .

Mr. Ding, 22, has been lying flat for almost three months and thinks of the act as “silent resistance.”

. . .

The ruling Communist Party, wary of any form of social instability, has targeted the “lying flat” idea as a threat to stability in China.

. . .

Mr. Luo was born in rural Jiande County, in eastern Zhejiang Province. In 2007, he dropped out of a vocational high school and started working in factories. One job involved working 12-hour shifts at a tire factory. By the end of the day, he had blisters all over his feet, he said.

In 2014, he found a job as a product inspector in a factory but didn’t like it. He quit after two years and took on the occasional acting gig to make ends meet. (In 2018, he played a corpse in a Chinese movie by, of course, lying flat.)

Today, he lives with his family and spends his days reading philosophy and news and working out. He said it was an ideal lifestyle, allowing him to live minimally and “think and express freely.” He encourages his followers, who call him “the Master of Lying Down,” to do the same.

After hearing about Mr. Luo’s tangping post on a Chinese podcast, Zhang Xinmin, 36, was inspired to write a song about it.

. . .

Mr. Zhang uploaded the song to his social media platforms on June 3, and within a day censors had deleted it from three websites. He was furious.

. . .

Lying down is really good
Lying down is wonderful
Lying down is the right thing to do
Lie down so you won’t fall anymore
Lying down means never falling down.

For the full story, see:

Elsie Chen. “For Young People in China, ‘Lying Flat’ Beats Working.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, July 4, 2021): 4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 3, 2021, and has the title “These Chinese Millennials Are ‘Chilling,’ and Beijing Isn’t Happy.”)

When Does Selling an Entrepreneurial Vision Cross a Legal or Ethical Line?

(p. B4) I’m angry about start-up founders who over-promise, behave badly and sometimes crater their companies and walk away unscathed.

. . .

I’ve been thinking about this recently because of the glare on two start-up founders, Adam Neumann and Trevor Milton.

. . .

A new book details the ways that WeWork mostly just rented cubicles, burned through piles of other people’s money, treated employees like garbage and made Neumann stinking rich as the company nearly collapsed in 2019. WeWork has stuck around in less outlandish form without Neumann.

And last week, federal authorities charged Milton with duping investors in his electric truck start-up Nikola into believing that the company’s battery- and hydrogen-powered vehicle technology was far more capable than it really was. Among the allegations are that Milton ordered the doctoring of a promotional video to make a Nikola prototype truck appear to be fully functional when it was not.

. . .

Disproportionate rewards go to the entrepreneurs and companies that can sell a vision of billions of users and values in the trillions of dollars.

. . .

Those conditions tempt people to skirt the edges of what’s right and legal. But I also wonder if curtailing the excesses would also curb the ambition that we want. Sometimes the zeal to imagine ridiculously grand visions of the future brings us Theranos. And sometimes it brings us Google. Are these two sides of the same coin?

For the full commentary, see:

Shira Ovide. “Why Do Hucksters Come With the Territory?” The New York Times (Monday, August 9, 2021): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated August 4, 2021, and has the title “Innovation Invites Hucksters.”)

The book on WeWork mentioned in the above commentary is:

Brown, Eliot, and Maureen Farrell. The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion. New York: Crown, 2021.

Emerson’s Buoyancy and Resilience in Adversity

(p. C5) Life compelled Emerson to become something of an expert on resilience. As a young man he lost the love of his life, his wife Ellen, to tuberculosis when she was just 19. His oldest son, Waldo—a joyful child who seemed to concentrate in himself what was most uninhibitedly life-loving in his father—died of scarlet fever when he was 5 years old.

. . .

In the essay “Power,” Emerson writes that we carefully watch children to see if they possess “the recuperative force.” Those who instinctively retire to their rooms in sorrow when they’re slighted, miss the prize or lose the game will be at a serious disadvantage in adult life. “But,” Emerson continues, “if they have the buoyancy and resistance that preoccupies them with new interest in the new moment,—the wounds cicatrize, and the fiber is the tougher for the hurt.”

When Waldo died, Emerson needed that kind of buoyancy and resistance to overcome the greatest sadness of his life.

. . .

Emerson’s resilience was shaped by his conviction that we are mortal and there is no other life than this. Nothing can redeem the time when you did not plunge forward and do what you had to do. The moral quality Emerson commends above all others isn’t love, faith or patriotism but a commitment to work. “But do your work and I shall know you,” he writes in “Self-Reliance.”

Emerson’s commitment to rapid recovery from loss isn’t gentle or humanitarian. But it is classically American in its insistence on affirming the future over the past. For all our faults, Americans are still people who look ahead, scope the territory, move forward. When we fail at something, we give it one more go and maybe get it half right.

For the full essay, see:

Mark Edmundson. “What Emerson Can Teach Us About Resilience.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 19, 2021): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date June 18, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Emerson’s most famous essay, “Self-Reliance,” can be found in:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.