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.