You're Born with It!
"Why is it that I can't control myself? I know what's right and wrong. I just don't seem to be able to do what's right!" This frustrated plea came from a fine young businessman who had come to me for counseling. It wasn't the first time I had heard that plaint in one form or another; in fact, it is a very common experience.
The apostle Paul no doubt felt that same way when he said, "To will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Rom. 7:18-20).
Note that Paul differentiated between himself and that uncontrollable force within by saying, "It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me." The "I" is Paul's person, the soul, will, and the human mind. The "sin" that resided in him resulted from the natural weaknesses that he, like all human beings, received from his parents.
At the moment of our conception we all inherited a basic genetic temperament that contains both our strengths and our weaknesses. This temperament is called several things in the Bible: "the natural man," "the flesh," "the old man," and "corruptible flesh," to name a few. It is the basic impulse of our being that seeks to satisfy our wants. To properly understand the temperament's control of our actions and reactions, we should define three terms and carefully distinguish among them: temperament, character, and personality.
Temperament is the combination of inborn traits that subconsciously affects all our behavior. These traits, which are passed on by our genes, are based on hereditary factors and arranged at the time of conception. Six people contribute through the gene pool to the makeup of every baby: two parents and four grandparents. Some authorities suggest that we may get more genes from our grandparents than our parents. That could account for the greater resemblance of some children to their grandparents than to their parents. The alignment of temperament traits, though unseen, is just as predictable as the color of eyes, hair, or size of body.
It is a person's temperament that makes that person outgoing and extrovertish or shy and introvertish. Doubtless you know both kinds of people who are siblings_born to the same parents. Similarly, it is temperament that makes some people art or music enthusiasts, while others are sports or industry minded. In fact, I have met outstanding musicians whose brothers or sisters were tone-deaf. I think of one professional football player whose brother has never watched him play a game because, as he tells it, he "just can't stand to watch violence."
Character is the real you. The Bible refers to it as "the hidden person of the heart" (1 Pet. 3:4). It is the result of your natural temperament modified by childhood training, education, and basic attitudes, beliefs, principles, and motivations. It is sometimes referred to as "the soul" of a person, which is made up of the mind, emotions, and will.
Character combines your temperament, training, moral values, beliefs, and habit patterns. It is indeed the net result of all the influences and religious commitment on your life. It is what you really are when there is no one else around. What you do when you have the freedom to do what you want to do is an expression of yourself.
Personality is the outward expression of oneself, which may or may not be the same as a person's character, depending on how genuine that person is.
Often personality is a pleasing facade for an unpleasant or weak character. Many are acting a part today on the basis of what they think they should be as a person, rather than what they really are. This is a formula for mental and spiritual chaos. It is caused by following the human formula for acceptable conduct. The Bible tells us, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7), and, "Out of it [the heart] spring the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). The place to change behavior is inside man, not outside.
In summary, temperament is the combination of traits we were born with; character is our "civilized" temperament; and personality is the "face" we show to others.
Since temperament traits are inherited genetically from our parents, we should keep in mind some of the natural factors that influence them.
Certain temperaments tend to follow certain gene pools. While on a missionary tour to Mexico, I noticed the vast differences in the tribes that I observed. The Sapotaco Indians impressed me greatly. Many tribes had been shiftless, indifferent, and careless in their mode of life. The Sapotacos, however, were a very industrious and often ingeniously capable tribe. In one city we visited, they actively pursued the technical trade of weaving, and their sense of responsibility was in sharp contrast to anything we had observed in other tribesmen. The skills were learned, but the adaptability and desire to learn them were so universal throughout the tribe that it could only be an inherited trait.
A person's gender will also affect his or her temperament, particularly in the realm of the emotions. Women often tend to be more emotionally expressive than men. Even the hardest of women will weep at times, while some men never weep. Men and women may have the same temperament, but the extent of emotional expression may vary.
Temperament traits, whether controlled or uncontrolled, last throughout life. The older we get, however, the softer and more mellow our harsh and hard traits tend to become. People learn that if they are to live at peace with their neighbors, it is best to emphasize their natural strengths and subdue their weaknesses.
Many successfully develop their characters and improve their personalities, but it is doubtful that any are able to change basic temperament. Yet it is possible to modify it to such a degree that it almost seems to have changed_as we shall see in the next chapter.