Educators are a-flutter over the well-documented parental habits of “hovering.” Helicopter parents at an elementary school PTA meeting are one thing; mom or dad showing up with their adult children at their interviews is quite another. When children are systematically shielded by parents and others from the opportunities to experience and overcome setbacks, they never develop the requisite muscles to do that important work when the stakes are higher in adult life.
To that end, there is a growing body of research around grit. Given adequate talent (an internal factor) and opportunity (an external factor), how important is grit, the muscle to persist doggedly? Turns out, it’s quite important. Penn psychology professor Angela Duckworth has developed the “Grit Scale.” Her book makes a compelling case correlating grit with leadership aptitude. For instance, West Point has found that a high score on the Grit Scale is the most reliable predictor of enduring “Beast Barracks” (the first seven weeks at the Academy). It also accurately forecast cadet educational and career success.
If grit is that important, why is it so elusive? Why do so many in our day lack the perseverance to tackle problems that exceed their current skill set? Is it a simple matter of impulse control? Distraction? Character flabbiness?
Duckworth came to see that gritty high performers are distinguished by their ability to process “feelings of frustration, disappointment or even boredom” not as “signals to cut their losses and turn to some easier task.” It was “as if they had been conditioned to believe that struggle was not a signal for alarm.” This was true for Green Beret candidates, National Spelling Bee contestants, Chicago public-school students, time-share salespeople, and Teach for America participants.
Grit is not in vogue in a culture that values having your irons in many fires and keeping lots of options open. Grit puts all of its eggs in one basket, for weal or woe. But I believe Duckworth is onto something significant in trumpeting the virtue of grit.
And here is a word of hope: the church in North American has grit. Churches can drive you crazy with their change-resistance. They can be stunningly cumbersome and out of touch with the times. But say this much — the church has persisted to this point, and I’m betting it will continue to do so. If the March Madness mantra is “survive and advance,” then the church in North America has done that, and will do that.
The words to the ancient church of Philadelphia still ring true: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 3:10). Amen, and pass the grit.