Finding the Essence of True 'Grit'

Discovering that an indomitable spirit is within any of us.

Every once in a while I form an attachment to a particular word. 

Sometimes the attachment constitutes simply dwelling in the word's meaning.  In mulling the word over, I'll work it into conversations to see where it fits well, to see if I can use it deftly. This is not some esoteric exercise where I fixate on multi-syllabic words with obscure meanings – No sesquipedalian am I! Not at all.

Recently, it's the word "grit" that I can't seem to shake. And I'm not talking about dirt.

According to what I've gleaned from various definitions, "grit" involves possessing courage, resolve, and strength of character. Or, if you prefer, being endowed with indomitable spirit. Isn't that an amazing set of characteristics? Don't you want your cup overflowing with an abundance of grit? I definitely do. When I think of what it takes, of what we draw on to manage life's assaults (which we all inevitably encounter from time to time), I think of grit.

Some would liken having "grit" to having "pluck", but I don't like the word pluck anywhere near as much as grit.  And then there's grit's second cousin: moxie. My seventh grade English teacher told me I had "too much moxie" because I pointed out a grammatical error he had made on a handout. 'Each child should bring in their permission slip by Friday,' the sentence in question read. Well, shouldn't an English teacher illustrate proper agreement, I wondered, as he called me up to the board in retribution to diagram an extremely complex sentence. I really would have said nothing had it been my algebra teacher, but I digress.

A transformative condition

Moxie involves nerve; grit surpasses moxie. Grit is transformative.

I was recently trying to explain the intangible qualities I admire about grit to my 11 year old. The subject arose as a result of her trying out for and making a sports team where kids whom she herself deemed "better and more experienced" apparently didn't make the cut.

"Why did I make the team?" she asked. While I haven't a clue how this or any other team is put together, I do know that when she is engaged in a sport she loves, she exhibits those grit-like qualities that, as one coach put it to me, "is the stuff you can't teach." Firm determination.

When I think of some of the most difficult passages I've encountered in my own experiences, whether it's the really hard stuff that I know I'll be dealing with for the rest of my life (picking out my mother's coffin, for instance), or something that's just going to be hard for a little while (pushing out a nine pound baby), or even bracing for a few seconds (dealing with a huge, creepy centipede in the bathtub), it's grit that gets me through.

The essence of true grit came up again this weekend while I was getting steeped once more in the stories of 9/11. How is it possible that hundreds of firefighters raced into those burning buildings, steadfastly and calmly, ascending staircase after staircase? How can it be that the terrified passengers of Flight 93 mustered up the courage to formulate and execute a plan to regain control of the doomed aircraft?  And how do those who had so unjustly lost loved ones cope with their grief in the face of such violent brutality? 

The answers to these questions are complex, defying oversimplification, but I think some of it comes down to grit. 

Courage. Resolve. Strength of character. Indomitable spirit.

There are a great many characteristics I'd like to possess.  It'd be terrific to be quick-witted, to be more intelligent, to be thin (sigh). 

But I think I'd be content, if I could just maintain a healthy dose of grit.

Stacey Hammerlind September 16, 2011 at 01:29 AM
This makes me think of an article I read the other day about how some kids rise above their circumstances to succeed...Can you teach this? model this?... I always think it is an "American" trait, this is how our country came to be...love this column, love this word. Thanks Lisa! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=general&src=me
Robin Cushman Phillips September 18, 2011 at 10:10 PM
Agreed! I truly admire those with "grit". Thanks, Lisa!


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