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Inside the newsroom: In search of inspiration, and finding it

Karl Ramirez, associate director of marketing at The Ridge Foothill, left, walks with resident Mary Lynne Edison at the assisted living community in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. A pair of University of Utah health experts said Friday that even though COVID-19 vaccines are coming, Utahns should avoid gathering for holiday celebrations with older family members who are more vulnerable to the deadly virus.
Karl Ramirez, associate director of marketing at The Ridge Foothill, left, walks with resident Mary Lynne Edison at the assisted living community in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. A pair of University of Utah health experts said Friday that even though COVID-19 vaccines are coming, Utahns should avoid gathering for holiday celebrations with older family members who are more vulnerable to the deadly virus.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Weary travelers passing by the wood front mochi shop in Kyoto, Japan likely smelled the boiled rice balls, pounded into a paste and toasted in front of travelers who were headed to pray at a shrine.

The story of the mochi shop was told Saturday in the New York Times by writers Ben Dooley and Hisako Ueno under the eye-popping headline: “A Family Business Got Its Start In a Pandemic (1,000 Years Ago).

1,000 years! The travelers were praying at that early time for relief from a pandemic.

The family that owns the mochi business has been doing the same thing, century after century, espousing principles that may be a bit, well, foreign to those going through business textbooks. But when we look to examples of resilience during a pandemic, is there anything more inspiring than learning the lessons of a business that has survived a 1,000 years of everything?

Consider some of the lessons:

  • Chasing profits isn’t job one. “Thir No. 1 priority is carrying on,” Kenji Matsuoka, a professor emeritus of business at Ryukoku University in Kyoto told the Times. They pass the torch from generation to generation, regardless of the sacrifice that it takes.
  • Many of these businesses — there are 3,100 in Japan that have existed for more than 200 years, and a remarkable 140 that have existed more than 500 years — rely on family to be part of the labor pool, cutting costs, but also care for the nonfamily employees dedicated to the business, the article states.
  • They maintain significant savings and these businesses tend to be risk-averse. Consider this telling item from the story: “A survey this summer of companies that are at least 10 years old, more than a quarter said they had enough funds on hand to operate for two years or longer.”

The principles of endurance, selflessness, family self reliance, savings and care for others are on display in these businesses and provide inspiration during a pandemic.

Other stories of sacrifice and resiliency can still be written.

Kathie Supiano is a grief therapist and director of the University of Utah College of Nursing’s Caring Connections program. She’s seen the hardship that COVID-19 has caused patients and also health care workers.

“This is really where we set our personal freedom aside, and say, for the good of my family, the good of my neighborhood, the good of my church, the good of my state, the good of my nation, we just have to assume we’re carrying, or everyone we interact with is a carrier, and keep that distance,” she said in an article by Lisa Riley Roche in the Deseret News last week.

In the same article, Dr. Mark Supiano, chief of the University of Utah’s Health Division of Geriatrics, said, “Right now, the mask is the effective vaccine that we have. ... It won’t be until 60, 70, 80% of the population is vaccinated and protected that we will begin to think about letting that guard down.”

Vaccines are a reason for optimism and inspiration. We’ve had Deseret News reporter Sara Israelsen-Hartley focused on the quest for a vaccination for months. Last week she covered the meeting of the committee in charge of recommending priorities to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which revealed the first limited doses will go to front-line health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities.

Caring for the health care workers and the most vulnerable in nursing homes is vital. It also means the young and healthy must do their part during the months and months it will take to deliver a vaccine to all.

If a business can do what it takes to sell mochi for 1,000 years, Utahns and the nation ought to be able to do their part to sacrifice until at least summer.

Doug Wilks is editor of the Deseret News.