Grit's Break Down Build
Being a recent student participant of an on-site college program, I heard about Grit via my psychology professor, who really sold the book as "the best work of its kind" in his lifetime. He was an abnormally straight shooter, and over the spring semester he gained a high level of respect from me and several Gods attending his classes. That being said when I read the title I became ecstatically interested in reading it. To make things 1000% better ULK sent a request that asked me to direct a selected few ideas from the book's chapters, repurpose the information in a way that makes it useful for prisoners and prisoner movements.
Taking Grit to the cipher those last days of Ramadan provided the forum that I used to gain opinions from the Gods here. First it was introduced and the purpose was established as to what I was planning to do within our cipher with regards to the book. It was agreed that we would give light to its reading, our interpretation of the book knowledge as it regards the prisoner movements (meaning unified actions of prisoners between different lumpen orgs, religious orgs, racial groups and at times including sexually non-conformist groups).
Once that was the base of our collective understanding, we read the very first part out loud in its entirety, without stop. This was done in order to gain a clear mental picture of what the author, Dr. Angela Duckworth, wanted us to know: How she defined "grit." Her purpose for writing this book. How this information could be used (individually, as a group, systematically, as a tool of help or to exploit). Lastly we brainstormed on whether the subject was new, unique or reminiscent of other books any of us read.
This was all done on day one. It included reading the preface along with chapters 1-5, checking the dictionary and thesaurus for words we either didn't understand or had different definitions for. This was to ensure we all stayed on the same page until a full grasp of the work was gained (or as we say, the who, what, when, where, how and why). Once that's gained then each God can go back to the cell and reflect on what is being said versus what the author's voice is trying to persuade the reader of. Because of lockdowns we didn't come back together again for some time. In that time I made 6 copies of the book and hand delivered the copies to each member of the cipher. I read ahead because of these time restraints for my response for ULK to be ready for this 63rd issue.
The subjects that I found applicable to the prisoners and prisoners' movement's need to develop grittier comrades on the front lines are from the Part II chapters: Interest, Practice, and Purpose.
Using "the grit test" [a questionnaire measuring someone's passion and perseverence - ULK Editor], we can discriminate in positive ways to create better recruiting methods when it comes to bringing individuals into the inner communal cipher or cadre. This will change the qualities that community leadership uses to identify like-minded soldiers. Though most will have to use interview methods instead of written questionnaires, and questions will have to be asked again and again in different ways before confirmation can be made.
The study habits and increasing interest in each member's confidence in sharing these interpretations of studied materials must become the job of all in leadership, with little to no critique at first and high praises to study habits and being able to communicate ideas in their own voice.
Standing up to injustice must be celebrated. Especially in times they are made to suffer by the authorities for doing the righteous and self-respecting thing — which is the institution's systematic way of pushing said prisoner to believe they are powerless. This is the creation of the passive prisoner who just puts up with all levels of abuse from authority. To fight this mental bullying the leadership must celebrate the comrade's actions openly with high energy. Leadership must show and prove they are willing to suffer some loss if and when making a stand causes such losses — a united front plus true knowledge of where the cadre stands on issues by actions, not just theory or talk-based instruction.
Grit is made of both passion and perseverance, creating and maintaining, stick-wit-it-ness, evolving interest and deep commitment. As opposed to natural skill, know-how or raw talent which may or may not assist in being a success. Comrades, being grittier means overcoming obstacles, learning from defeats and setbacks, and never allowing them to define who you are nor the movement. Remembering effort is worth twice as much as talent.
Example: Recently myself and eleven other political prisoners attempted to establish a self-introspection help program. At the beginning the administration acted positively about allowing the program to have a pilot try, yet once we got a free body volunteer to facilitate our group the administration changed its decision. This forced me to educate myself on group creation, rules of submittal and how to get sponsored state-wide, which I’m currently in the process of doing. The lesson is: don't stop at the first (or second or third...) signs of resistance.
This chapter was organizational gold when clearly understood. Leaders please pay close attention to each comrade's passions within your cadre or cipher, with even more emphasis on possible new members in relation to the struggles the cadre is immersed in. Understand what each person is passionate about, issues they will be more able to persevere through any pushback or reprisal.
Besides that, knowing each person's passions and convictions helps to know what position everyone is good at and areas they need assistance developing, which can be introduced in creative, fun ways, then incentivized through recognition and praise for gradual growth in areas of difficulty.
Example: Say a comrade is uncomfortable communicating their ideas publicly. This problem is amplified when the COs are involved to the point this comrade doesn't assert his legal rights nor is he respected as a man in the righteous way. Leadership must cultivate these skills in members who have difficulties related to these identifiable areas. The "you spoke really well" type or "the way you used those descriptors in the last essay was golden, so please continue to develop those skills" type of recognition and praise. I call it fanning the flames of passion, then directing the flames of progress and confidence among comrades.
Practice is something all gritty people have in common. You've heard the saying "practice builds perfection." Well after reading this chapter I must take it even further. Without practice as a united front executing plans in concert, you don't know how to work as one body. This will create the "big me and little yous," or followers resentment. Learn to practice making decisions together by hearing everyone involved out, allow each person the opportunity to lead in every activity. Practice writing write-ups, working out as a group, being inclusive as much as possible. This will make the cadre able to operate even when separated.
The author's research shows that this kind of practice must be done in association with a positive state of mind related to the balance of quantity and quality of time spent in skill development. We must also seek out new creative ways of practice in direct relation to the top-level goal. Formal repetition and fun activities loosely associated to goals are also useful tools.
Examples: Getting our comrades to rap in the cipher, incorporating subjects, words, ideas related to the group's mission may help them develop a public speaking style, confidence in speaking these opinions, and help them be more connected to positive public communication as a way to handle issues. Another more formal method is reading and discussing essays with the group, both on the yard and in closed room settings.
ULK readers this may be the most important thing to learn about in this whole book with regards to prisoner movements and issues that create the necessity for a more inclusive united front. This author makes the definition of "purpose" more than the passion of the moment. Purpose is also the intention to contribute to the well-being of others. The balance of both is what is needed in these occasions and is found in all the grittiest revolutionaries.
The comrades that feel they were born to live and die for the people are of such destiny-driven molds where this quality is found, manifested and acted out. These people are rare and even when they reach the stage of public awareness they are usually murdered by one of the system's arms of imperial aggression. Purposeful Revolutionaries must be supported by the people and understood by their peers as the magnetic all-inspiring super-motivation-drivers that they are. When unity is necessary these forces of nature will bring organization.
Example: Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the BPP was placed inside prison for a shootout with the police, and he was railroaded the first trial. The whole country polarized over this miscarriage of injustice creating one of the most supported appeals California had ever seen. "Free Huey" was the call, Black Power was the purpose, and the results are revolutionary history and the thing of legends.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Thanks to this comrade for reviewing Grit from the perspective of a revolutionary anti-imperialist prisoner organizer. We also studied the book and found lessons we can draw from it for our own work. We can't summarize them all here, but will respond to some points in the review above and emphasize what we see as the most important points from the book. (Grit is available from MIM(Prisons) for $10 or equivalent work-trade.)
We are hesitant to take any of the studies in Grit as representing humyn nature itself. As with all bourgeois psychology, the studies were conducted under conditions of imperialism. So we don't know if they're absolute representations of how humyns' minds work. But since we're also organizing under imperialist conditions, the studies do apply to our present conditions.
Throughout Grit, the author uses scientific studies and also case studies of "paragons of grit" — people who have reached pinnacles of performance in their jobs. This is one place where Duckworth's bourgeois perspective shines brightly. The book opens with a study of the most elite forces in the U.$. military, and jumps from athletes to musicians to chemists. The only mention of a socialist hero is when Duckworth puts Joseph Stalin's name right next to Adolf Hitler's. Ey admits Stalin had grit, but also that ey was "misguided" and "prove[s] that the idea of purpose can be perverted." In our communist version of Grit we would include case studies of not only Stalin, but also Mao Zedong, George Jackson, Stanley Tookie Williams, Assata Shakur, and the tens of thousands of people who participated in the over-5,000-mile Long March in China in the 1930s.
Regarding the grit test, we caution against using it as a measure of who should be allowed into our movement. It can be a tool for assessing where people need development, and how much we could count on them to follow through in this moment. But Duckworth emphasizes strongly that grit can grow. In fact, Chapter 5 is titled "Grit Grows," Part II is titled "Growing Grit from the Inside Out" and Part III is titled "Growing Grit from the Outside In." There are many interventions we can use to increase the grit of our cadre. And building our own and our comrades' committment and perserverence should be our focus. The grit test may be useful for measuring if we're improving our abilities to build grit in others, but should not be limiting who can participate.
USW7 outlines above the importance of group practice, and we also want to add the importance of individual development for improvement. Elsewhere in this issue of ULK we lay out the guidelines for deliberate practice. The group mentality is important, but we can't rely on it for our development. Kevin Durant summarizes the ratio by saying ey spends 70% of eir time practicing alone. Both are necessary.
Besides our ability to grow grit, one of the most important points Duckworth makes in Grit is that effort counts twice. Duckworth warns us against being distracted by talent, or assuming that one's skills are dictated by talent. Talent plays a part, but without effort, one's talent won't develop into skill. And without effort, one's skill won't develop into achievement. People who have less talent certainly surpass those with more talent in their achievements. They do this with effort. The ability to put in effort even in spite of repression, setbacks, failures... that is grit.