A few days ago, I was driving along and I heard an NPR article on the radio. It was about a quality called “grit” and how important it is to cultivate this quality in children.
The notion of grit, which was originally coined for the John Wayne movie, True Grit, been defined by researchers as a character trait involving resilience and determination against all odds. It’s a quality that has been slowly bred out of recent generations, in favor of a cultural emphasis on nurturing a sense of specialness (for lack of a better word) in children.
The formalization of research into “grit” is a clear backlash against the increasingly obvious inadequacies of helicopter parenting. The generation currently entering the work force is entirely unprepared for the realities of the adult world, i.e.: things are not always easy; you are *not* entitled to special treatment; indeed, you are *not* special, (at least, you are no more special than the next person). In short, this generation lacks grit – that special something that causes a person to dig in their heels, take responsibility and overcome obstacles. It’s a stereotypically American trait, and the reality is that many younger Americans have never had the chance to develop it.
And that’s what I find curious. The article outlined various school programs designed to “teach” grit. I’m not actually certain it’s something that can be taught. I am, however, fairly certain that it’s something that can be cultivated. The notion of grit comes down to determination in the face of challenge. The development of this quality hinges on the habituation of an impulse – the impulse to overcome. As such, allowing children to struggle a bit, to be challenged, to figure things out for themselves, teaches two things:
1. The first is that a person’s worth is not in how much they win, but rather in how hard and how well they fight. How much do you want that passing grade? That place on the team? That skill in dance, or music or art? How hard are you willing to work? If you work the like devil, and don’t get what you want, do you want it badly enough to get back up and go for it again?
2. The second is that the world needs to be actively engaged. One of the side-effects of helicopter parenting is that the child never learns to engage the world for themselves. They learn to sit passively by while their parents engage for them, i.e.: their parents talk to their teachers; their parents do their projects; their parents talk them on to the team. No where in there does a child learn to advocate for themselves.
The cultivation of determination and resilience, (i.e.: grit), empowers young people. It teaches them not only that they have a voice, but that they can use it. This isn’t to say that they will always win, but they will have engaged.
The bottom line, to my way of thinking, is that grit is a fundamentally important quality. It feeds ambition, and determination, and by extension, success. Beyond any external measure, it also informs how you engage the world, and how you conduct your life. As such, I’m pleased to see an emphasis being placed, once more, on it’s cultivation. I’m just sad that it’s fallen so far by the wayside that special programs need to be instated to ensure that grit sneaks back into our culture.