January Character Trait: Grit

Inspired by a site I found last year, In Character -which has ceased publishing, I thought I would add some character-related posts this year. In the olden days when my children were little, I used to pick character traits to emphasize for the homeschool curriculum; and that seems a good idea to resurrect for 2011.

January will start out with “Grit” because it is so à propos to the overall theme and title of the blog. Grit is a very Midwestern trait, although the movie “True Grit” took place in the Western states, and sort of parodied both the trait and the iconic original actor, John Wayne.

What someone had to say about that….

So it was in True Grit (1969), in which a spunky, sexy preadolescent teaches the aging John Wayne a lesson or two about grit. It was also Henry Hathaway’s last movie. A young Roger Ebert’s review describes a Western from which grit has passed. To compensate, Ebert offers aesthetic knowingness (wonderful in a Chicago newspaper movie reviewer, I thought at the time) and a sense of superiority, deeply unearned, to what we see:

Director Henry Hathaway pulls his telephoto lens high up in the sky, and we see the meadow isolated there, dreamlike and fantastic. And then we’re back down on the ground, and with a growl Wayne puts his horse’s reins in his teeth, takes his rifle in one of his hands and a six-shooter in the other, and charges those bad guys with all barrels blazing. As a scene, it is not meant to be taken seriously. The night I saw a sneak preview, the audience laughed and even applauded. This was the essence of Wayne, the distillation.

Even forty years ago, Ebert was wrong. True Grit wasn’t the essence of Wayne — it was a ghost. In True Grit, Wayne ended his cowboy career by clowning about something he once took seriously enough to teach his audience. The laughter and applause Ebert heard marked the sound of grit departing from the world.

I default to the more parochial understanding of the trait.

There is a new remake of that movie this season, True Grit with Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role.


What is this “grit”? It is something which gives traction in the old adage, “try, try, again” and a basic part of the recipe of Finnish style “Sisu. Inner determination to make something work, get accomplished, or just generally stick it out against opposition. It is a rough sort of quality and the physical counterparts are those little bits of broken rock that are bigger than sand but smaller than pebbles. An irritating thing on the soft fleshy parts of your feet.

It doesn’t sound very desirable, but if you have ever gotten stuck, you know that grit can be just what you need. If you need to grind down or smooth out something rough, grit is your friend. And so it is in the more abstract sense of the meaning. Personal grit is the ability the face opposition without crumbling, and work on through difficulty without giving up. It is the ability to garner inward strength and determination to continue through to accomplish tasks and commitments.

Grit is persistence.
Grit is endurance.
Grit operates by patience.
Grit has resolve.

Grit and Resolutions

Have you ever asked yourself why so many people give up on their New Year “resolutions” so easily that it has become a cultural given, and a cliché to express abandonment of one’s good intentions? Perhaps it is because we not only see few examples of steadfast commitment to task, but in our society we disassociate from the idea of duty. We have little experience of sticking anything out, and on the most serious level of duty there is a blank space. Individually there are definitions penciled in, and you can find the occasional gritty individual or two, but it isn’t a quality that is given much space in our consensus of good personality traits.

Look at that root word of resolution, resolve, … because once you resolve, the quality of grit would enter when the resolve gets tested.

“to come to a determination; make up one’s mind; determine” -verb
‘firmness of purpose or intent; determination. ” -noun

So, did you firmly determine that something was important to you this year? Dig into that and you will find that grit is created in your character when you keep at it,

even -when you don’t feel like it -when there are strong temptations to break your resolve -when other choices arrive on the scene -when it is harder than it first seemed.

You might fail in the face of any of those challenges, but failure doesn’t matter in the creation of grit. What matters is that you pick yourself up and try once again. Too many are discouraged by initial failures, which they probably didn’t expect, or in some cases expected with far too much weight given to their appearance. You failed. So what? Look at the situation, adjust, and attempt to follow through on something that you have decided is of prime import for you.

Keep trying until either you succeed or you firmly decide that you want to take a different track. It is OK, to give up if that is the best alternative. Grit all by itself is not the quality we should seek. Villains can have grit as well…. What behooves this characteristics of grit is to partner it with wisdom and faith.

But Grit is a great quality to cultivate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.