It’s been expressed in various ways. Moxie. Fortitude. Tenaciousness. Each word touching on a facet of a larger trait that, to those who would rather spend their lives seeking success and happiness than misery and the empathetic tones of victimhood, is something to aspire to: Grit.
For more than a year, social justice activists have been attacking one of education’s latest buzzwords: grit. They’ve been arguing that it’s wrong, and possibly racist, to blame low-income black and Hispanic students for not having enough of it. And they contend that education reformers should focus on fixing systems that keep families trapped in poverty, instead of trying to “fix” students. (For examples, see here and here).
As buzzwords go, grit is a good one. But more importantly, what makes grit a worthwhile idea, beyond the adoration of buzzwords, is that anybody can have it. Black, white or green. Male, female or fluid. It doesn’t matter. You’re as gritty as you wanna be.
But is this wrong, “possibly racist.” because it shifts responsibility for an individual’s success off of society and onto the person? Maybe, given the perspective that the value of grit is relative to the offsetting inhibiting factor of racism. But that doesn’t quite get to the heart of the matter.
Seated at the dais was Angela Duckworth, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist, who took the familiar word “grit” and fashioned it into a psychological term that has captivated school leaders, teachers and parents across the country. Her theories on grit, which she defines as a combination of passion and persistence, have been popularized by a best-selling book and many magazine articles. Essentially, she argues, those with more grit do better at school, in college and afterwards in the working world. And Duckworth believes grit is something you can build; you’re not just born with a fixed amount of it.
Each of us faces impediments to success, however we choose to define success. It may be that we’re not too smart. It may be that we’re kinda ugly. It may be that our skin is the wrong color. Certainly some impediments are worse than others. Some are harder to overcome.
But what purpose is served in crying about the things that make it harder to achieve success? Do you enjoy being miserable? If so, then victimhood is perfect for you. But if it’s happiness you want, other than the happiness derived from being a victim, then there’s grit.
Want to end the prejudice? Grit. Want to make big money? Grit. It may be no guarantee of happiness, but it surely hedges the bet. If happiness and success are mere luck, then the more grit you have, the luckier you will be.
Instead of whining about how tough and unfair life is, show some grit. And as Duckworth says, it’s not just something you’re born with, but something you can build. Your choice, and it definitely does not come without effort, but having grit beats the hell out of crying about not having it. Better to be full of grit than, well, you know.
H/T Stephanie West Allen