It Takes More Than Grit to Develop Character: The E&C Pulse - January 2, 2020

December 31, 2019 Ben DiPietro

Jan. 2, 2020

It Takes More Than Grit to Develop Character


Grit is an important ingredient of character, but not the only one, says Angela Duckworth, a professor, psychologist, founder of The Character Lab, MacArthur Genius, and author of the book “Grit.”


Gratitude, forgiveness, wisdom, intellectual humility, creativity, curiosity, optimism, and self-control are among the traits that, along with grit--which Duckworth sees as the combination of passion and perseverance--define character. Paraphrasing Aristotle, she described character as “ways of acting, thinking and feeling that are good for other people, and good for ourselves.”


Speaking with LRN Founder and Chairman Dov Seidman at a recent HOWMatters conversation in New York, Duckworth said it’s important to remember not all people who possess grit should serve as exemplars of character--criminals, for example, often exhibit grit to achieve their goals.


But the combination of passion and perseverance over really long periods ended up being the common denominator among the super-achievers Duckworth researched when writing her book, a New York Times bestseller.


Much in the way as you sharpen steel with steel, Seidman said, adversity is what builds grit in people, but no one wants to prescribe adversity to develop grit. “So what do we do, just wait until life throws curve balls at us? How do you develop grit when we're not prepared to prescribe that?” he asked.


Duckworth wasn’t sure adversity is always the right word to use, because circumstances such as trauma, abject poverty, and chronic racism offer great levels of adversity, but do little to build character. That said, she agrees people who develop “in a frictionless-like path...they won’t have a lot of resilience. They won’t have the capacities that they have not yet needed to develop.”


People need to be challenged, they have to be asked to do things they can't yet do. They have to be struggling. “You don't learn when you're in a frictionless flow state. You learn when you're confused,” she said. “You develop character when you have a problem, and when you have struggle.”


Gritty people are animated by some purpose, said Seidman, who asked Duckworth to talk about the role purpose plays in relation to grit.


“It is almost impossible, if not entirely impossible, to sustain the kind of effort that I'm talking about unless you have a why, unless you see how that late night, that early morning, the stretch of really tedious, whatever it is you need to do, like, why the heck am I doing this?” said Duckworth. “It has to serve a higher-level goal.”


Purpose has to be associated with something worthy of others, said Seidman, who recalled the parable about two bricklayers performing the exact same job. Asked what they were doing, one said building a cathedral, the other said building the house of God, a response that displayed a greater sense of mission.


Duckworth said her data shows a very strong correlation between grit and having an orientation in life toward purpose and meaning, and wanting to be part of something bigger. “It's about the strongest correlation I found with grit in any of my research studies,” she said. 


“I think it is because it is part of human nature to want to do this. … The reason why this is so related to grit and sustained effort is that it's wired into all of us to crave that and want that. When you don't have that, it's very hard to sustain effort.”


Grit is not enough to develop character unless it is married to messages of integrity and honesty, she said. Duckworth likes to break down character as having three strengths--heart, mind, and will. 


Grit is a character of will, she said. People who are gritty get things done, but those things could involve taking over a country, which is why it’s important to develop strengths of heart, such as empathy and compassion, and strengths of mind, such as intellectual humility, curiosity, creativity.


“If you are bringing up your kids, or you are running a company, and in your values there's something about will, something about heart, and something about mind, I think you can't go too far wrong,” she said.


                                                                                                            BEN DIPIETRO




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