The Science of Success

These dandelion children–equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes–do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care…. Gene variants generally considered misfortunes (poor Jim, he got the “bad” gene) can instead now be understood as highly leveraged evolutionary bets, with both high risks and high potential rewards: gambles that help create a diversified-portfolio approach to survival, with selection favoring parents who happen to invest in both dandelions and orchids…. The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them. And even when they lead troubled early lives, some of the resulting heightened responses to adversity that can be problematic in everyday life–increased novelty-seeking, restlessness of attention, elevated risk-taking, or aggression–can prove advantageous in certain challenging situations: wars, tribal or modern; social strife of many kinds; and migrations to new environments. –David Dobbs, The Atlantic

Interesting context for the next time I teach The Glass Menagerie (or a “sensitive Joycean artist crushed by an uncaring world” bildungsroman).