Saturday, January 7, 2017

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of SuccessGrit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Understanding this author's points requires some subtlety of thought that, reading some of the reviews, some people seem to miss. Duckworth defines grit numerous ways but it's basically an ability to do difficult things and to try again after failing. Grit is a very important factor in both success and happiness. Grit can be learned and practiced.

What this book does not say is that everyone has equal access to grit. She specifically says that in studies of mice that were shocked without any control over their own suffering could not function as well in other tasks as mice that had some control over their suffering. The mice became victims of learned helplessness. The problem here is that unlike the sections about grittiness, there were no real life examples of human beings suffering these conditions (though arguably there was an example of one person overcoming this condition with a lot of help from other people). There is some discussion of income inequality, particularly with regards to a lack of extra-curricular programs that teach grit in poor schools, but there wasn't any kind of exploration of institutionalized racism, sexism, and poverty- oftentimes working in conjunction to "shock" human beings repeatedly through years and decades of their life without any control over these shocks.

Obviously, this isn't Duckworth's area of expertise, and she only cites the mice studies to add fullness to her exploration of grit. The reason for concern though is that her grit philosophy is very closely adjacent to the pull-yourself-up-by bootstrap mentality that excuses the persistence of income inequality, racism, and sexism because these are "not the most important reasons" for the failure of particular people or societies to thrive.

Other people doubt Duckworth's arguments because they perceive talent to be of crucial importance in success in various physical and creative fields. I find this line of thinking to be less interesting or important because it's difficult to know how much hard work (and "grit") others have invested in particular endeavors. With the exception of certain child prodigies, age isn't a good proxy for hours of focused growth practice. (And there are plenty of child prodigies that don't accomplish anything beyond what average adults later accomplish.) Except in physical endeavors where a particular body type is necessary, I do tend to believe that the highest levels of "talent" can be learned. But for that talent to be learned your main focus in life probably needs to be that one thing, and you need other people support your single-minded focus, oftentimes by literally monetarily supporting you. (Or loaning you money, or paying you at such a high rate that you can take a long leave from paying work.)

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