Eminent Orphans and me


It started with a previous blog post.  A friend told me about  Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David and Goliath “ in reference to  me wondering why some people survive tragic circumstances and others get stalled in life because of them

Since Christmas time puts me in the book store often looking for gifts for our book loving family, I picked up a copy to see what he had to say. I wasn’t a stranger to his books, so knew there would be interesting reading.

Gladwell talks about many famous people in history who lost a parent early in life, and how that affected them.  A psychologist named Eisenstadt noted that a surprising number of “creatives” – innovators, artists and entrepreneurs – had lost a parent in childhood.  Eisenstadt went through two Encyclopedias, ( didn’t have google in those days !)  and surveyed all those that warranted space of more than one column.  Out of a list of 573 people he could track biographical information on, he found that one quarter had lost a parent by age 10 and forty five percent had lost a parent by the age of 20 ! Sixty seven percent of British Prime Ministers in Lucille Iremonger’s studies lost a parent before the age of 16. Twelve out of the first 44 American Presidents lost fathers while they were young. Canadians aren’t documented as well, but our charismatic Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau would fit in this category. 1

Apparently parental loss crops up in many studies. Prisoners, too are two to three times more likely to have lost a parent in childhood. That’s not so good !

Gladwell goes on to explain that some gifted scholars fail in University seemingly because they are too psychologically happy.  He says that  the death of a mother or father is a

propellant that sends them catapulting into life. Because they are on their own, they are forced to persist, to invent, to chart their own way — into a curious category Gladwell dubs “eminent orphans.” 2

Makes one think doesn’t it.  Surviving what Gladwell calls  “near misses” makes many people strong. He goes on to speculate that although losing a parent early in life, or other types of traumas, certainly would never be wished on anyone, but society truly needs those who are made stronger by a tragedy and came out of it stronger.

It helps know that many people go on from hurtful experiences to be strong leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists.

My personal beliefs are that God uses our hurts and broken circumstances to build his people. Although I am certainly not a great fan of the sayings ” what He brings us to He will bring us through” and ” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

I am certainly glad that I was one of those survivors.  I must admit, that some of those survivor characteristics haven’t always made me easy to live with, but in time have helped shape a gentler, happier person.

I am thankful for that.

1 George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton and Barak Obama

2 http://www.radiolab.org/story/successful-children-who-lost-parent-why-are-there-so-many-them

About Terry Jago

Retired nurse manager interested in living my best life with natural and healthy living choices.
Aside | This entry was posted in Faith, Living life, musing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Eminent Orphans and me

  1. Anna Weber says:

    The focus on responding to life challenges is always inspirational. I hope this post gets wide visibility!

    Anna Weber | LIterary Strategist

    Encouraging aspiring authros to engage in positive, life-altering writing that will provide long-term, beneficial awareness to readers… allowing them to leave their mark on the world.

  2. Hi Terry – What a fascinating topic. Interestingly, when hiring management candidates I always look for people who have had to overcome some type of significant adversity as those who have had clear sailing don’t seem to possess the same strength and fortitude when obstacles get in the way in the workplace. Very unscientific, I know, but it does seem to agree with Gladwell.

  3. That was quite fascinating Terry, and we do have many examples of people suffering misfortune in their childhood who rise above their challenges and move on to being independent, and successful leaders.
    I’m sure it’s not always easy, but the rewards shine through:)
    Lovely post Terry

  4. pmalston says:

    Hello Terry, Wonderful post. The take-away for me is that “one’s earlier life circumstances does not always determine how their life will turn out” (at least not on the outside). Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wisdom. Love & Light ! – Phyllis

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