Character Strength: GRIT

Character Strength: GRIT

by Scott Van Camp

2017 promises to be a landmark year for Hollywood HEART! We have already created new programming opportunities with the LA Unified Linked Learning Schools, Aveson Charter School, Los Angeles High School, and Rosemary Children Services and we are actively building relationships with The Art Center College of Design and The Los Angeles College of Music.

As we partner with these amazing institutions, we are also purposefully integrating new philosophy and practice into our services. The two pillars of our service ideology and practice are the Visual and Performing Arts Standards and clinically researched character strengths (also called resiliency factors). In this installment of our newsletter, I will briefly speak to the integration of these character strengths into our arts education workshop programming.

The character strengths that we have chosen to focus on in the development of our curriculum are: Grit, Optimism, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Zest, and Curiosity. Specifically, I will begin this series of reflections on our curriculum evolution by looking more closely at Grit. Grit can be looked at as persistence, courageousness, diligence, perseverance, willfulness, effort and resourcefulness. In her seminal book, “GRIT-The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” author and psychologist, Angela Duckworth defines Grit as: “A passion and perseverance for long term goals.”

This is my 28th year as a helping professional and more specifically, as a helping professional who has dedicated his life to working with children and their families. Because I am a licensed clinical therapist, a great deal of my professional life has required a focus on deficits; most specifically mental health diagnoses. Conversely, a choice to clinically focus on strengths seems more congruent with practices of compassion. I do still believe that there are circumstances that require a deeper understanding of presenting pathology and possibly even psychotropic medication and; even in these instances, it is possible (and necessary) to focus on strengths and purposefully build-on the character strengths of the individual. This is where creativity comes in. Carl Rogers in, “On Becoming a Person,” offered a radical view that people are inherently good and that helping relationships must be founded in unconditional positive regard and acceptance. These assertions are meaningful and have important implications in practice. I might suggest a more conservative, yet no less hopeful view that all people are wired for industry. By industry I simply mean that we are motivated to seek belonging, usefulness, and competence. Because this is a natural drive, it could be simply stated that we have energy with which to create or destroy. 

In our Hollywood HEART curriculum and workshops we are working to engage young people in creative workshops and collaborative partnerships. Engaging youths’ energy, interest, and curiosity; we partner with these young people to find their passions through meeting new people, learning new concepts, and taking healthy risks to manifest and express their creativity in diverse arts disciplines such as: music, fashion design, theater, creative writing, filmmaking, dance and more.  Many of us are familiar with the term, vicious cycle; what we may not be as familiar with is what psychologist Brent Roberts termed, “virtuous cycles.” A virtuous cycle is a pattern of empowerment rather than learned helplessness and is the result of children (and adults) who experience struggles in completing specific tasks, learn to be aware of the progress they are making, and as a result they develop confidence that allows them to face future challenges with ever-increasing levels of optimism, curiosity, and self-awareness. These children are developing Grit and it is not a coincidence that this journey is described in terms that we may begin to recognize as the character strengths: Grit, Optimism, Social Intelligence, Self Control, Zest, and Curiosity.

By orienting and training our teaching artists, team members, and participants in these character strengths, we begin to create a culture. In these environments, youth learn to understand these character strengths, identify their personal strengths, and participate in engaging activities where they can try new things, work through challenges like acquiring new skills, dealing with boredom, collaborating and communicating with others, and working through the anxiety of performing or presenting their work. By learning and practicing skills, youth are developing courage, perseverance, resourcefulness, and follow through and in-accord with the virtuous cycle, they are learning objective ways to see and value their own progress and the progress of their peers.

Participation and learning in the arts represents a unique, enjoyable, challenging, and pro social way of celebrating industry. Hollywood HEART engages youth, youth engage themselves and their peers; and the result is the development of a creative community. Research in the area of later life success, shows that youth who score more highly on measures of Grit have more successful careers, more stable and meaningful relationships, and even prove to be more physically healthy as they age.  While most arts education programs focus solely on arts as a compliment to academic performance (core standards), Hollywood HEART is discovering and integrating ways to motivate, inspire and set youth up to succeed; developing and enhancing Grit is a great place to start.