The word is spelled G-R-I-T.
A local example is named Vanya Shivashankar. The 13-year-old from Olathe is competing this week at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which begins Wednesday with preliminary rounds.
This is Vanya’s fifth time participating in the national contest. That is grit.
Grit is usually defined as the trait of having a passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It differs from perfectionism. It’s an attitude that accepts setbacks as part of the path to success.
Grit is missing in too many children (and adults). And it’s not cultivated enough by American society in general.
Which is partly why moronic commentary has chased successful Indian-American spellers like Vanya and her older sister, Kavya, who won the national bee in 2009. Trolls have taken to social media to pounce on the fact that children of Indian descent do so well in the national spelling bee.
These children work for their successes.
Angela Lee Duckworth, a former public school math teacher, is credited with publicizing the term grit in her 2013 TED talk. Her work as a psychologist continues at the University of Pennsylvania, studying grit and self-control as predictors of success.
In her TED talk, Duckworth admitted that not enough is known about instilling grit. It’s easier to see how society deflates ambition through stereotypes and not giving support.
Duckworth studied national spelling bee contestants, along with successful adults, in her initial work. She has pointed out that success doesn’t always correlate with who has the highest intelligence scores, the most talents or social savvy. That’s how she honed in on grit.
In previous interviews with media, both sisters have talked about learning discipline and focus. They don’t claim that these were innate characteristics. They practiced, building the skills. They also have supportive parents, including a father wise enough to coach the girls to learn root meanings and patterns in the language of origin, rather than memorizing spellings.
Kavya spoke to cable host Rachel Maddow about staying composed and keeping her thoughts clear so she could “make sure it is 110 percent right before I spell the word.”
110 percent. That’s grit.
Wishing Vanya best of luck this week is an appropriate sendoff. But it’s more apt to acknowledge that she has readied herself to manage whatever the contest brings.