This is in response to an article from Aeon titled “Teaching ‘grit’ is bad for children, and bad for democracy“. After reading it, I asked myself, “Is grit really bad?”.

The article discussed the ideas behind the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Citing several examples in the book, it discussed the darker side of grit. It says that grit results to people doing mean, stupid things or doing things that they should not have done. One particular example is from a football team’s chant:

No whining. No complaining. No excuses

Seattle Seahawks

The article says that because of this, the players end up doing actions that are harmful in the long term. Ignoring their own thoughts just to show grit resulted in injuries that lasted for a lifetime.

If people keep their problems to themselves, it results in elevated stress and other negative effects. They feel that if they speak up about their worries and problems, others will say that they are not “gritty” enough and they should just “deal with it”.

Is this really the essence of grit? I don’t think so.

What is grit anyway?

Just as being a Stoic does not mean you repress your emotions, having grit does not mean you stop thinking and do things rashly.

Now don’t get me wrong. You do need to whine, you need to complain, you need to make excuses. This is all part of being a human. As imperfect individuals, sometimes we do things that do not make sense or do not help our situation at all.

You need to get it out of your system.

Grit is still fighting through the muck as you whine and complain. You don’t just resign yourself to the situation, instead you keep on fighting even though you feel it is unfair or it is not your fault.

At some point you realize that there is really no one to blame but yourself. You put yourself in this situation. Blaming others or past events will not change a thing. The person who can help you the best (or even help you at all) is yourself. That is how we develop grit.

As we go through life and encounter its myriad of troubles and problems, we will tend to complain and whine less and less. This is the essence of the football team’s chant. It is not to suppress any feelings that we have because of the circumstances, it is acknowledging adversity and being mindful of it. Eventually we will learn that whining and making excuses really does not help solve our problems.

You can’t teach grit

One thing I agree with the article is that grit should not be taught formally or included in formal schooling. The way we measure if someone has grit or not is purely subjective and often inaccurate. Grit is a personal attribute, something that we only speak to ourselves. You can’t teach grit the same way you teach someone how to swim. We all have to learn it in our own way and on our own time.

We need to accept that there are things in life that cannot be measured or managed. Measure yourself only against your own yardstick and not on how others measure themselves.

Photo by Kirsten 24K on Unsplash

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