Monday, September 18, 2006

Religion, politics, and psychology are the subjects I enjoy reading about the most. Guests looking for bedtime reading are usually dismayed to find very little good fiction on my bookshelves. Magazine choices are Time, Country Living, Artist, Sojourners, and Christian Century. Best bet, if you want a romance novel, is to bring your own. So, of the 39 email messages in my Outlook this morning, the one that got most of my attention (second only to Benji's regarding Pip and his temper) was the New York Times article by David Brooks concerning human behavior and the latest theories about personality development. From that column:

Without too much debate or even awareness, there has been a gigantic shift in how people think human behavior is formed. Consider all the theories put forward to explain personality. Freud argued that early family experiences relating to defecation and genital stimulation created unconscious states that influenced behavior through life. In the 1950’s, the common view was that humans begin as nearly blank slates and that behavior is learned through stimulus and response. Over the ages, thinkers have argued that humans are divided between passion and reason, or between the angelic and the demonic.

But now the prevailing view is that brain patterns were established during the millenniums when humans were hunters and gatherers, and we live with the consequences. Now, it is generally believed, our behavior is powerfully influenced by genes and hormones. Our temperaments are shaped by whether we happened to be born with the right mix of chemicals.

If that's true, it tends to relieve much of the burden of responsibility for misbehavior. My hoping for reconciliation among siblings in my family may just not be possible. Like mixing oil and water, it ain't gonna happen!

People, including my parents, used to make a big deal about the fact that we were "a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead." How much warning did the world need that the preacher's kids did not look alike, think alike, or act alike; three very different personalities and characters developing under the same roof, going in three different directions.

In our younger adult years, we were separated by hundreds of miles; for the last 20 years those geographical miles have shrunk to 5, the emotional distance has only increased. The chemical mix in each of us can be volatile when mixed with the others, so not mixing is probably best for all concerned.

There are times, however, when the explosive elements in each of us need to be extracted, or, at least, neutralized, like at funerals and weddings. Rather than soaking ourselves in the most flammable material we contain, then waiting for someone to carelessly toss a cigarette into the mix so it all goes up in flames is dangerous. Fire can give warmth and light, but it can also destroy.

Rather than depending on each flask of chemicals to extract (or neutralize) its own combustible, the Master Chemist will have to do it. And if He doesn't, I will have to accept that. Maybe that's what Christ meant when he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Maybe we don't have as much control over these things as we like to believe.

On the other hand, maybe the angelic/demonic model comes closest to the truth. Don't we each have some control over whether we're encouraging angels or unleashing demons? I still believe we do. Maybe not as much control as I once thought, but some, enough to be civil when the occasion calls for it. Weddings and funerals are short-term commitments compared to other interactions. Surely, a few hours together in the same room is not asking too much. Or is it?

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