Sunday, 28 April 2013

True Grit – What’s Your Definition?

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, CVO, OBE FRGS
Look at his grim expression.  He suffered from True Grit.  It could be jolly painful (but chaps didn't discuss that) and in Victorian times, other than awfully long walks of the kind that made you miss tea, Ascot, Henley and the Debs coming out, there was no cure.

I read with interest an article published in today’s Independent explaining how US psychologists have identified ‘True Grit’ as a distinctive personality trait.  Good Lord, really?

No doubt after years of highly funded research they have determined that "People high in grit are more passionate about their goals and more dedicated to accomplishing them, so the importance of success should be higher for gritty people."  That and soft toilet paper.  After all, a diet of grit must be wearing on the old sphincter.

“According to academic studies gritty adults achieve higher education results, gritty kids spell better and gritty military cadets are more likely to graduate with honours from elite military academies.”

Let me get this straight.  Gritty adults achieve higher education results?  Adults? Grittty adults achieve higher education results?  Send me back to school for my fifty-fourth birthday and I'd cream my Eleven Plus exam.

I think this is all codswallop.  All they have done is re-identified character traits such as intelligence, focus and desire to succeed.  Plenty of people have these qualities yet lack ‘grit’.

“Researchers in the United States believe it is the reason why among groups of equal intelligence, some people achieve more.”

What they are suggesting is that success and grit are linked.  I achieved Cadet Government at Sandhurst, an institution which by the author’s loose definition could be considered an elite Military Academy, placing me in the top 5%.  On my Returning Officer’s Course at the same academy I won a Director of Studies award and at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, I came top of my entry yet at school, I was as thick as two short planks and failed my ‘A’ Levels.  Having been rubbish at school but having done rather well at an ‘elite’ military academy, does this mean ‘grit’ can be acquired? Clearly I did not have it as a teenager but seemed to have it in bucketloads in my early twenties.  Can it be ground into the heads of cadets in some way?   Hitherto useless could I suddenly achieve outstanding success by rubbing grit into my eyeballs or even going so far as to eat it?  Do Americans really eat ‘Grits’ for breakfast?   If so, then it debunks the theory that it is a distinct, genetically acquired personality trait already identifiable or deniable in a child’s ability to spell. 

The report seems to suggest that people are born with ‘grit’.  I am suggesting that it is more to do with circumstance and experience.  Are we saying that all the richest people in the world have True Grit?  Are we saying that the least successful in the world lack this useful quality?

Unquestionably, being determined is a facet of True Grit and many successful people are so because of their single minded focus but just being determined doesn’t endow the individual with True Grit.  The vast majority of people are successful because they were simply very good at their jobs; they were clever and may have studied hard.  Some were blessed with good fortune or a damn good idea, being in the right place at the right time. Do they have True Grit? 

How many intelligent, successful people have stepped out of their upper floor office windows just because their business had failed?  Did they have True Grit other than that they acquired gratis as their bodies slammed into the pavement?  All those people who accepted Fate’s poisoned chalice and in desperation drunk deep, meekly accepting their fate, did they have True Grit?

True Grit is born out of adversity and failure.  True Grit is having your teeth kicked in and your face ground into the dirt yet being able to get up, dust yourself off and start again. True Grit is the timorous lad who suddenly rushes out into withering enemy fire to rescue a fallen comrade.  The poorly rewarded who freely give of themselves to the service of others have True Grit.  The otherwise unremarkable individual who, suffering some terrible calamity, rebuilds his life against all odds, he has True Grit.  Children fighting debilitating disease, they have True Grit.  The thick, uneducated Private soldier on duty at a railway station in Northern Ireland all those years ago who threw himself onto a parcel bomb thrown into the concourse and minimized the blast with his own body saving countless lives, he had True Grit.

Yes, determination is an essential characteristic of those who possess True Grit but I do not think success is necessarily a measure of it.  As I have suggested, even a moron can stumble across success and geniuses so often blow it.  Success is fickle.  Grit is something else entirely and has fuck all to do with intelligence, success, genes, money, satus or the lack of it. 

Shackleton was spectacularly unsuccessful but no-one would deny he had True Grit.  Clearly he was driven.  He wanted to cross the Antarctic from sea to sea and raised the funding to mount an expedition.  It was his goal, his dream, his reason.  But what he wasn’t prepared to do was sacrifice the lives of his men chasing it when it all started to go wrong.  Not only did he have the True Grit to consign his raison d’être to unfavorable history and return home, not as a success to be lauded by xenophobic press, but as a failure suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he was more concerned about saving his men trapped on unforgiving ice and embarked on an epic, and to this day, unsurpassed feat of leadership, seamanship, navigation and personal endurance to bring them all home. 

I think there are other qualities of True Grit not mentioned or measured by our esteemed American academicians:

Honesty, Integrity, Compassion and Self Sacrifice.

Blimey.  I've stumbled across the Four Pillars of Leadership.



27 comments:

  1. Tom, Shackleton's expedition was foolhardy, from the outset. If he had had true grit he'd sat in his armchair, dreaming of lands far far away and how to conquer them. Instead he endangered lives of those stupid enough to "follow the leader" only to then be "rescued" by him.

    U

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  2. Oh Ursula. Your comment is as harsh as the arctic conditions Shackleton faced when it all started to go pear shaped. Scott blindly led his men to death. Shackleton tried for glory but then gave up and rescued all his men instead. He had True Grit.

    The point I was trying to make and that you have appeared to miss, you mad German harridan, is that success in the American sense has bugger all to do with True Grit.

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    1. Mad German harridan.......

      Best line of the night x

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    2. Ursula is German? I'd love to hear her accent!

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    3. And mad as a sackful of cut snakes but she has a sense of humour, an odd one to be true but a sense of humour nevertheless.

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    4. Gorilla Bananas, that I am German is pure Tom. Thus pure conjecture. For all he knows I am Marcia. Or one of his nieces. Or Marlene Dietrich. You want accent? You can have accent. Just give me a ring.

      As to you, John, my dear sweet knight in sticky chicken manure: I preferred it when Tom called me "Teutonic Bitch" and, in a bid to save my savaged soul, offered to service me across a kitchen table. Exact location as yet to be specified.

      U

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    5. Like I said Chaps, mad as a sackful of cut snakes but isn't she awesome? OK John, I know you are out of the game but Mr Gorilla, she does deserve a good rooting across a kitchen table.

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    6. Ursula.
      You are priceless.........a priceless harridan
      Xx

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    7. Ah, so she isn't German! I always assumed she was a mouthy Irish woman. I'd still like to hear your accent, Ursula.

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  3. Honesty, Integrity, Compassion and Self Sacrifice.

    That was my grandmother..... Who brought up two children in poverty in the back streets of 1930 s Liverpool

    Now THAT'S true grit

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  4. It would be nice to think that honesty, integrity, compassion and self sacrifice were the hallmarks of leadership, but if you look at captains of industry, I think you would be hard pressed to find those qualities. And there's the rub. Being greedy, ruthless, prepared to walk all over people seem to be the way to succeed in business today.

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    1. Perhaps explains why I am not rich!

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    2. I'd rather know you than them.

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  5. I was sadly absent when 'true grit' was being distributed, but I did receive a small parcel of it in my 50's. Too late of course to become a wealthy leader of men. However, I was a Latin Scholar, but that did me bugger all good.

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    1. I don't think I was too far up the queue either!

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  6. As I read this I kept thinking - what the hell is so important about "grit"? In Yorkshire everybody has "grit" but what really matters above all in life is compassion and the other virtues you noted at the end.
    Fond regards,
    Y.Pudding

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    1. I thought Torkshiremen ate grit with their pudding! Kds today? They've had it so good...

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  7. Well, Americans have a thing about grit, possibly because of their pioneer history. Look at the Rocky movies. I don't myself see anything admirable about being repeatedly used as a punchbag, but a lot of movie watchers were obviously inspired by it. Not all American movies praise doggedness though. Ferris Bueller had zero grit but was as cunning as a fox.

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    1. True grit isn't the gift of a single nation as we all know. I've never heard of Ferris Bueller.

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  8. This is a great post, mainly because I argued and agreed with myself the whole way through it. Thanks for a great night.

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    1. You see? This is the problem with being an alcoholic. I have a breathtakingly beautiful, intelligent and eloquent young lady thanking me for a great night out and I can't remember a damn thing about it. Please tell me I at least had the decency to pay the bill?

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    2. Restaurant bill that is. Christ, one has to be so careful nowadays.

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  9. Ah, methinks a piece of research where the conclusion was decided before the work began. And these days, now that in the 'civilised' world we've done all the exploring and conquering we could, I agree with Columnist in suggesting that "Being greedy, ruthless, prepared to walk all over people" are the qualities needed to succeed....

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    1. As cutting as Bitchontheblog, Sr Nota Bene. Where you perchance in a previous life a highly critical tutor of mine? But no. Now I realise you refer to the original research conducted in America and not my simple observation. I agree, success has more to do with ruthlesness rather than the four pillars of leadership but on a battlefield, ironically, ruthlessness generally tends to one's ultimate downfall.

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  10. I had to read once i saw the picture of Shackleton. My late MIL was a relative of his, and Himself and i talked of taking the same trip to the Anarctic he did, without the sinking ship and having to leave people behind and fetch them at a later date.

    I think that true grit has more about the desire to try something because one feels compelled to do so than it does the idea that it makes sense. Or dollars and cents.

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Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.