Nature and Nurture
As we head into summer the population of Bondi begins to swell. The famous stretch of sand and its surrounds transform as people from all walks of life come to experience what it has to offer. Bondi Beach is the ultimate melting pot, with every person bringing something special to the mix. No one individual is ever exactly the same as anyone else, and every person on that beach has their own unique personality.
If you had to describe yourself, where would you start? It’s harder than you think. You might automatically start with the physical. You’re six feet, two inches tall, 87 kilograms, brownish hair, blue eyes, etc. But when it comes to describing your character it can be tricky. “Um, I’m pretty laid back and have a fairly easy going personality…” but what then?
Personality is something of an elusive concept and can be hard to describe. At its core, personality is really all about individual difference and can be described as a pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving that differentiates us from someone else, ultimately leading us to act consistently across situations. In other words, our personality puts us on a predictable path to act or behave in a particular way. Once we know what type of personality someone has we can accurately predict how that person is likely to behave in a specific situation.
Let’s put it to the test. Say you’re surfing at Bondi on a Sunday morning. It’s summer, there’s a clean 2-3 foot swell rolling in, the banks are great and a light wind is puffing from the north-west. Before you paddle out it’s worth considering what draws one to surfing in the first place. Surfing magazine White Horses says that although surfing feels like an escape from normal life, the line-up out the back is very susceptible to be influenced and governed by individual personalities and can thus be considered a microcosm of society at large. But unlike most sports that have an umpire or referee to officiate, the surfing rules are left to the individual to interpret and adhere to as they see fit.
Because personality is generally considered to be consistent it would be fair to assume that the personality traits you bring to the surf are likely to be the same type of personality traits you have back on dry land. So, the guy patiently sitting out the back waiting his turn in a seemingly relaxed manner and not getting too stressed by the crowd is likely to be that way at home, at work, while he’s driving the car or during a shopping spree with his mother in law. The angry, aggressive idiot who’s howling at people to get off his waves is likely to be the type who gets road rage, shouts at his girlfriend and probably hates his mother in law. In either example it’s worth considering that both these guys would have shown similar traits when they were teenagers and even as young kids.
So, mothers in law aside, this begs the question, “Are we born with our personality or is it something we develop over time?” I don’t like to sit on the fence but psychological research throughout history has tended to swing back and forth with regard to this matter. However, today the pendulum seems be hanging somewhere in the middle. Rather than ‘nature versus nurture’, it’s now more like ‘nature and nurture’.
There will always be internal and external forces at play that influence our personality and thus our behaviour. The younger we are, the more these influences come into play. It’s kind of like concrete that sets slowly, making it very hard to alter once it’s dry. It’s not an excuse, but it’s worth considering next time someone drops in on you.
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