The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

Resilience and Grit - Part II

Angela Duckworth, in her book, "Grit", defines this concept as passion plus perseverance in pursuit of a long-term goal. It is the thing which drives us to get up, day after day, in order to achieve something we have set our minds to which may be many years in the future. While resilience is the ability to cope with interruptions to our plans, learn from mistakes and to overcome challenges along the way (both those we anticipate and those which are unexpected), grit is the drive to carry on when it seems something is beyond us.

In her book, "Getting Grit", Caroline Adams Miller explores the concept of Bad Grit (which repels other people). She talks about:

  • Stupid/Stubborn Grit: when you have an idea whose time has passed and a strategy to pursue a goal that is no longer applicable; it refers to people who are drunk on the goal and will not listen to good advice and who continue to pursue something to destructive ends (either for themselves or others). This involves a form of arrogance; these people are unable to disengage from a goal and re-engage in a different way
  • Faux/False Grit: people who fake their results to make it look like they have done something difficult when they haven't (e.g. Lance Armstrong; people who fake research to gain a PhD). This group of people take short-cuts
  • Selfie Grit: when humility has gone AWOL; people who have to tell you about their accomplishments all the time; people who do things to get a trophy or the acclaim of others 

Of all the Character Strengths, the most important one that most successful people possess is curiosity. If you are curious, it's not all about you; it's about what you can learn from others and how you can challenge yourself. For me, curiosity equals intellectual humility, because it means that you are not afraid to ask questions; you are not afraid to say I don't know; you want to know what you don't know; and you are not afraid to find out. This is 'Good Grit'. People with 'Selfie Grit' are not curious about others; those with 'Stupid Grit' are not curious about considering other ways of getting things done. Seeking and taking advice from others is a critical element in humility, and it is central to grit.

Hearing life stories from gritty people can help us to build our own grit. The best stories involve "Ordinary Grit", which is shown by ordinary people who make you want to be a better human being because of the way they go about their lives (their example makes you ask yourself, "How can I be more like that person?"). They don't have to be famous or well-known; it is far more important that they are close to you (within your community).

To cultivate grit in young people, Miller reminds us of the following:

  • Setbacks, downfalls, negative events are the things that build grit and help us to find out who we are
  • We must allow children to fail, to feel what that is like
  • We need to experience between 3-7 significant setbacks to have a happy life; to know the difference between good and bad (if everything is pleasant all of the time, how do we know if we can handle things when they get hard?)
  • Don't swoop in and save them; let them get through difficult times and things by themselves, otherwise they never work out how to make anything happen on their own

Miller creates the word "sticktoitiveness" – perhaps it's simply a new way of saying "persistence" or "perseverance". Whatever we choose to call it, I think it is critical that we develop our students' capacity to endure hardship and make the most of life, and this is a process which takes a long time.

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it: "Good character is not formed in a week or month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character."

In the next and final Thistle for the year, I will link grit to having a 'growth mindset', as well as to the concept of 'learned industriousness'.

Mr James Hindle
Director of Student and Staff Wellbeing