Grit and kindness: More is needed

Curtis Sprouse

With each passing year, humankind makes significant advances in things like technology, science, and medicine. Still, we fail to implement best practices when it comes to advances in becoming healthier and happier with consistency and completeness. It isn’t that we don’t know how to act to better ourselves and others; it's that we don't make the deliberate effort to do so with consistency. We make choices as to when we will apply grit and kindness when faced with adversity, but this needs to change.

The COVID-19 pandemic and today’s racial inequalities have highlighted two recent, compelling examples of societal issues that are not being addressed with adequate grit and kindness.  When increased death, violence, and discord result from our actions, we must work harder.

It's challenging to address the spectrum of issues that include, but are not limited to, economics, social, cultural, psychological, educational, and political dynamics that have put us in this hypersensitive, hyper-emotional hyper vulnerable state in a short article.  If we all worked harder at grit and kindness—bolstering Emotional Intelligence—we will achieve improved emotional balance, apply logic more consistently, and take actions that will result in better outcomes.

What can we do to balance our emotions and better focus our future actions on these critical topics that have created such a divide in our homes, communities, states, countries, and world? Divided, we will not solve these problems. We must think as a global community of human beings, not as groups separated by different appearances, cultures, and geographies.  We forget that the biology that makes us human is the same. It is, in large part, culture, geography, and history, the unfortunate actions of those that continue to divide us. Future generations will read historical accounts defining how we acted. How will they judge our leaders and our society?

Leveraging strengths to address problems

I was once asked by a friend, "Curt, you are at the halfway point of your career, did you learn anything? How will you end your career? How will you look back at the last 20 years that you have worked? Will it define the type of person you will be, reflecting what you learned during the first half of your career?"

My answer to that question in 2009 was no. What is your response to that question? It isn’t that I did not enjoy what I was doing—supporting pricing strategy and process efficiency for the Biopharma and the device industries was interesting and challenging, but not the kind of activities that were going to make a significant lasting impact on society. Helping people collaborate in the advancement of science and technology using behavioral science was an approach I felt could have a greater impact. Teaching people to understand how to leverage their talent and create solutions to problems was something I felt would be a good focus and help me to better use what I had learned meeting and working with thousands of people over 20-plus years.

In his book "Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging," Sebastian Junger addresses how people working together accomplish more significant, more impactful outcomes. When societies apply group action to address what psychologist Abraham Maslow called basic needs in his Hierarchy of Needs, they were effective as the energy and efforts focused on tribe survival.

We become products of our environments, and many factors define environments. Environments include the microenvironment of families and friends to the macro environment of geographies and countries. Where we are born,  our upbringing, and the people and places we are subjected to throughout our lives shape our behaviors. Environment shapes not only behaviors but lifestyle, health, family values, drive, economics, religion, political views, and values. We are beneficiaries and or victims of the environments, the ones we are born into, subject to, and choose. We as humans have tried to improve, but not always well. We have also taken advantage of more harsh environments for personal or organizational gain.  The act of taking advantage is an example of where grit may be in practice, but kindness is lacking. As individuals, we have had success and failures dealing with adversity created by different environments. We see many negative actions as we deal with the issue of health during a time of pandemic and many levels of racism and social inequality.

We are all captives of the COVID-19 virus that does not attack society equally or fairly. Many are not susceptible to the virus, but the elderly and those with health or economic factors are devastated by this disease. Those who have little risk should protect the more vulnerable, but how do we best do that when the messaging from health and government officials has been inconsistent? We also need to balance our response to the health crisis with the economic impact of actions that limit human interaction significantly and negatively impacting commerce and many families' livelihoods.

Racial inequality presents many similar challenges. There are adverse outcomes that have little to do with what is fair, just, and humane. The outcomes are the result of bias, divergent education, economics, and often a lack of grit and kindness.

A mindful approach

I propose two simple areas of focus, strengthening grit and expanding the practice of kindness. These concepts will not solve the problems we face alone. Still, practicing them will put us all in a situation to better balance how we go about solving these complicated and dynamic challenges and how we go about creating a history for which we will be proud.

Grit is defined by courage, resolve, strength, and character. There is little worthy of achieving that does not take preparation, hard work, and perseverance. Even when we apply these three elements, there are no guarantees we will succeed. Significant accomplishments seldom occur without focused effort targeting particular objectives.

The concentrated group effort is a principle that dates back to prehistoric primitive humans. Survival was determined by how groups of people working together to find water and food that would feed the tribe, not just those involved in the act of finding water and food, but the young and elderly who were not capable of such tasks. It is the structure of society that existed thousands of years ago and is still hardwired into our DNA. Yet we do not always embrace the positive aspects of the tribal concept that has allowed humans to thrive and advance for thousands of years.  

At times we do not put into perspective what we have accomplished as humans. The advances we have made in medicine, economics, education, technology, and finance, to name a few, were made possible through the collaboration of many. The Vanderbilt family, Dutch immigrants to the US were the wealthiest in America in the late 1800s. Vanderbilt's wealth afforded them many luxuries, yet hundreds of millions of people around the world today enjoy a more comfortable life than the Vanderbilt's.We have better medicines, affordable and accessible commercial air travel, and more robust public transportation that is affordable and attainable by many. We have access to nutritious foods that are more easily attained by many. We take for granted things like indoor plumbing and air conditioning. We have access to information on any topic by simply asking our phones a question, access to education, and many other things considered luxuries and not even attainable by the wealthiest people in the world in the 1800s and early 1900s. At the same time, these advantages are available to many but not available to all.

We have not fully learned how to expand our tribes to include and embrace more diversity of culture, religion, ethnicity, and language. We struggle to select leaders who represent the diversity of society because we emphasize things that are often arbitrary relative to what makes a good leader. We focus on how people look as opposed to their character, values, what they stand for, and how they act. Many people believe we cannot be represented fairly by people who don't look like us or have different backgrounds from us. Good leaders exhibit the principles of grit and kindness. They do not apply those principles disproportionately to any one group. 

If a leader truly believes that "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by the creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," then color, religion, and ethnicity should not be how we choose our leaders.  The principle of equality was the idea promoted by our forefathers, imperfect men, who believed in a better world for all, not some. Many of the country's forbearers gave their time, wealth, and lives for these principles.

Kindness, the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate, is part of the solution. Having goals and striving for objectives with grit as individuals or groups is an essential element of what will help us create more consistency and completeness in applying what we know to be good for humanity, but kindness is the moral compass. Kindness is how we package our actions. Making a social connection and showing goodwill, care, and compassion are the foundation of social acuity or what we call Emotional Intelligence. These are essential elements of kindness as we connect with people and show genuine care for them. It is easier for us to do right by others and for us to take action that helps not hinder the situation and or position of others. Kindness must not be relegated to any one culture, religion, ethnicity. When you leave an interaction, do others see you as a contributor, detractor, or a neutral party? Do they enjoy or regret the interaction?

Bettering the tribe

Recently my wife Stephenie and I were with some friends and we witnessed a community coming to the aid of four young men that were thrown from a motorboat. One of the young men was run over by the boat he had been riding in, sustaining life-threatening injuries. As the events unfolded, a community of onlookers, a 911 operator, police, paramedics, firefighters, helicopter pilots, and medical professionals all joined a tribe to save this young man's life. He survived the horrific accident and will, in time with the continued support of his tribe, get better. Let's not wait for tragedy and extreme situations to do the right thing. Let's not wait for pandemics or racial uprising and protest. Let's make the right thing part of our everyday actions.

As we strive to practice grit and kindness, I propose we do so to advance each other to improve society. To lend a hand to those we encounter, not because they need one but because it is the right thing to do.  We need to care about others, not just ourselves, and we need to demonstrate the care in how we treat others. Let's strive to make grit and kindness the foundation of our actions. Focused persistence with care and compassion cannot hurt. Ask yourself a simple question every time you encounter or engage another person: Did I leave them and the situation better than I found it? If you can say yes, you have taken the first steps to practice persistence and empathy.

Note: Skills, scores, profiles, or assessments referenced in this article refer to characteristics defined in the EurekaConnect Behavioral Dynamics program

About the author: Curtis R. Sprouse is the President and CEO of EurekaConnect, LLC. Curtis has spent more than 25 years building companies and consulting for hundreds of Fortune 500 companies.

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