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On the value of ‘true grit’…

My children have been gifted.  Gifted with family who value faith, honesty, respect, education and co-operative learning; hard work, effort, diversity, honor and humor.   Among other positive qualities.  All which serve to instil within our offspring an appreciation for integrity and a value for a high standard of living.  We work hard as parents to raise our children to be creative, pro-active members of our family as well as conscientious citizens of the communities in which they are educated and in which they play to learn.  However, I often wonder if we are doing them a disservice when it comes to our penchant for enabling.  We are always on the look-out for opportunities in which to help our children learn and grow, and we continually help them in their journey towards developing character and obtaining life skills.  But in doing so, we just might be holding them back.

We are well-meaning enablers.  Which just might be keeping our precious children from learning a very important lesson in the universal ‘how-to guide’ about the true steps to achieving success.  That is, the lesson of first receiving hard knocks and then obtaining true grit.  Grit: the stuff that drives high achievement in its many forms, from the less celebrated success stories to those belonging to the greatest of legends.   It was first coined as a phrase by the novelist Charles Portis, and has since been defined by motivational writers as an attitude or a belief that anything is possible when one puts their mind to it. (copyright 2000, Daryl R.Gibson)  I define it as the ability to defy the odds.

To rise above.

A few years ago, my two children were involved in a piano recital.  Neither one was eager to get up in front of the audience, comprised of mostly non-familiar faces.  But I prodded and coaxed, and they begrudgingly obliged their mother- who had paid for the lessons and was determined to get a performance out of it.  My daughter went first and sailed through.   Whether she made mistakes or not, she prevailed.  And she left the stage without a backward glance or another thought to how she might have executed her prepared piece.  There is something to be said for indifference.

My son and I were to play a duet that evening.  And here is how things unraveled for us that evening:

We both walk on stage together.  There is a buzz in the air, and I can feel my son’s arm beside my own as we sit side by side on the piano bench.  We begin playing, but somewhere between the start and the middle of the song, things begin to fall apart.  We are not in sync, and we both become alarmed with the sounds coming out of the grand piano on which we are playing.  As we flail toward the end of our song, we both realize there is nothing to save our performance.  And then we stumble off stage.   I am feeling more than a little bit alarmed that my son will be experiencing some stage fright over what had just happened.  If not full-blown trauma.

I am certainly right about the former.  He is mortified with his performance, embarrassed to tears.  And as his mother I am completely helpless.  I cannot take away these feelings of failure no matter what I say or do.  It is something he has to work through on his own. 

My son went through various stages of dealing with this unfortunate event.  At first, he was determined to quit lessons all together.  Then after agreeing to continue on in lessons, he was determined he would under no circumstances, ever perform again.  Then, little by little, and on his own terms, he did perform.  As he was ready and able to do so.

And finally, this past spring, he played his biggest recital yet- in front of a gala event recognizing performers across the county who had received special recognition for their commitment to and appreciation of music lessons.  That night, my son received an award for perseverance.  And as he accepted this award, I know I was the proudest mother there in that room.  Not because my son was the most accomplished, gifted player to perform that night- but because in his journey to the stage that night, he had come ahead the farthest.  He had overcome the obstacle of fear, and that was the smashing victory that I was celebrating.

For him, it was a life lesson in celebration of the phrase: ‘true grit’.

There are children in my neighborhood who do not have a mother and father who stand behind them, coaching them in all of their endeavors.  Like my kids do.   For these other children, grit is part of what helps them defy the odds.  And when I hear their stories- stories that shock and outrage parents like myself, that persuade me to become a better teacher and a better parent,  I am further compelled to believe that these kids are who they are for two reasons: the grace of God and true grit.

But for the grace of God, there go I.  And add to that: God helps those who help themselves.  And although there is some truth and some falsehood in the latter statement, it is something to consider.  That we must help ourselves- God is not to blame for every wrong turn we make, nor should blame be placed always on our parents.  Sometimes those unfortunate events, instigated by circumstances in our familial lives, are the pivotal points that turn things around for the best.  For good.  And these victories would not have been realized had we not learned the art of helping ourselves.  And it is my opinion that those who have been through the school of hard knocks and lived to tell the tale, these kids are the ones who are most deserving of success in its many varieties.

For in the end, true grit always has its just rewards.  And those who win them, greatly deserve them.

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One thought on “On the value of ‘true grit’…

  1. I love all those four kids and enjoyed an impromptu concert yesterday as we visited our Mill River family. I am so thrilled that Sam kept going in piano-he has a very nice style and he seems to have a real feel for music. It thrills me to see him play and now explore new instruments in his school band. Music is such a great pleasure-to be enjoyed personally and to be shared. Bravo, Sam!!

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