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Author Alissa Quart interviews Christine White, a woman who grew up in extreme poverty yet managed to build a successful career helping people who struggled as she did. But not by coaching them to have more “grit” and “resilience.”
Christine White, writes Quart, has written
a number of posts on on her nonprofit’s blog questioning this resilience refrain. She believes that when “we are obsessing about resilience it obscures the fundamental issues that people have, like a lack of privilege or a history of trauma.” When “resilience” is applied to at-risk kids, says White, it implies “the solutions reside within an individual and not their context: ‘resilience’ skews conversations away from equity.” The assumption is that having “character” will help traumatized people flourish — and if they don’t flourish, there is an implied lack of character.
“Ninety percent of resilience conversations would be better if the focus was, instead, on racial and economic inequities,” she wrote in correspondence with me.
But “resilience” and “grittiness” have become ubiquitous honorifics — likely to come out of the mouths of not only teachers but also therapists, urban planners, businessmen, and policymakers, all praising individual pluck.
Thanks to Angela Duckworth’s bestseller of the same name, “grit” is now a part of American school life: In New Hampshire, for instance, some grammar school students are taught “grit skills” by teachers who follow a “grit curriculum.” One grit lesson includes interviewing a neighbor, for example, who has shown grit and creating that person’s “perseverance walk,” outlining how they achieved their goals.
The terms have even spawned an industry of books, apps, and gurus:
There is a now even a grit and resilience industry.
“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and responsibility to pick yourself up,” says Mary Holloway, a “resilience coach” and the creator of the “Boom Bounce Wow Resilience Method.” There are also dozens of self-help books promising to make you more resilient or more gritty, including one that promises to create resilience with the subtitle “How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness.” One of the biggest resilience bestsellers is “Option B” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Apps have also gotten into the resilience and positive psychology game, with names such as ResilientMe and Happify. And there is even a “resilience planner” bearing the legend “Stay Resilient 2019,” which is currently sold out…
There’s also a growing — though much smaller — academic backlash to the term “resilience.” Critics note the focus on “resilience” can ignore the structural gaps of our economy, for example. Should we really be building personal capacities to triumph over, say, the “adversity” that is the current scarcity of public funding for education?
Call grit and resilience what they are: a substitute for the structural and financial changes that give people genuine opportunity to get ahead.
These terms are an effort to substitute “the power of positive thinking” for equity.