You say it's just the way you've always been. Or maybe it's Mom's fault - she was that way, too. Yet the "why" of personality remains mostly a mystery.
So in a new study, a team of researchers is looking to our feathered friends for insights into the personality question. They hope to pin the answer on genes and then apply their findings to humans. What they learn could help scientists address personality disorders. But on a more basic level, it could explain just why we are the way we are.
Which raises the question: Are we just the way we are? Genetically blueprinted for patience, or pre-destined to fits of passion?
Long before the days of personality research, one man was asking similar questions about the nature of identity - and whether or not we're tied to temperament. Moses wasn't eloquent. Who knows if "slow of speech," as he described himself in the Bible, implies that he was shy. Whatever way you slice it, he wasn't prepared for the role of spokesman for an entire nation.
Yet, when he responded to God's command to be that spokesman, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?" God replied with a revolutionary definition of identity. "I AM THAT I AM," He told Moses. (Ex. 3:11,14.)
I've come to think of this as God saying, "I am the 'I am' you are talking about when you say, 'I am this way and that's why I can't do what You're asking.' But that vision of 'I am' is all wrong."
God debunked the personality myth by showing Moses that he - that each of us - was and is His expression of Himself. And so since God is 100 percent good, with no element of inadequacy, evil, or inferiority, then our nature as His expression must be 100 percent good, too.
As I see it, the real need, then, as laid out by the story of Moses, is to discern between personality and spiritual individuality. Personality limits. It boxes us into certain modes of thinking and acting. It can brand us with ugly character traits and leave us with no escape route.
But spiritual individuality frees us to be the men and women of God's creating. Rather than bind us to evil, it links us to good. And identifying with it gets results - as I discovered recently.
I'd always thought of myself as someone who couldn't help being irritated with herself. I chalked it up to having high standards and never quite being able to meet them. What I didn't realize was that I was spending a lot of time mentally berating myself - and feeling like my failings kept getting under my skin.
One day, though, my prayers led me to recognize what I was doing. That was the first step. Because that mental posture dismayed me, and I didn't want to claim it as my own.
The hardest thing was seeing that in fact I'd never claimed it as my own. That I wasn't a personality type, but God's dear child, whose every thought was motivated by divine Love. I prayed to see myself more as the "I am" of that Love. Not a flawed mortal, but an immortal idea governed only by the thoughts and mandates of the Divine.
I loved thinking about myself this way. But was it really practical?
Profoundly. In the weeks following these prayers and insights, I've found I'm thinking and acting very differently. In a couple of stand-out incidents, I've stopped the mental tirade before it could even start. I've said no to the irritation and yes to Love. You could say I made the choice between a material view of myself and God's view. And to my delight, the irritation lifted - and frustrating circumstances turned around.
To me, that's the most beautiful aspect of the Moses story - that it left us with a record of what happens when we choose to see who we really are. And that we do have a choice. We can discover a blueprint for who we are. What's liberating is that it will show us that we're God's perfect image.