By Brenda Black
If you knew a choice you made would result in the chances of your dying being one in ten, would you take that risk? If you answered yes, you might just have a thrill-seeker gene.
With recent advances in molecular biology and the use of in-depth twin studies, scientists are beginning to reveal that not only our physical characteristics – height, weight, hair and eye color – but also our personality traits involve a significant genetic component. Studies suggest that thrill seeking is 59 percent heritable, happiness 80 percent heritable, and assertiveness 60 percent heritable.
Our genetic inheritance also apparently influences other behavioral attributes including leadership, religious belief, anxiety, extroversion, alienation, traditionalism, and career choice. Twin studies show the heritability of most personality traits at around 50 percent.
My guess is that the more than 300 climbers who have received official permits to climb Mt. Everest from the Nepali side this season have a genetic predisposition for such daring feats. And already at least three climbers have died while returning from the summit. But did genetics force them to make the climb or is there more involved than simple DNA?
Molecular biologist Dean Hamer draws an important distinction between temperament (what we’re born with) and character (what we learn). “One of the biggest myths is that something is genetic, therefore it is fixed. And of course this simply isn’t true,” he says. “All these genes do is give us a disposition one way or another. Whether we act on that is still very much a matter of free will or choice.”
In an article, “Predestination by Genes”, by Kevin Sharpe with Rebecca Bryant, the writers state: “Consider how some of us arrive in this world with a genetic predilection for thrill seeking. Some fear nothing and will do anything – hang-gliding, parachuting, or bungee jumping. But no one can predict what thrill-seekers will make of their predilection. A thrill-seeker may become a fire fighter or a drug addict. Free choice enters here. We may inherit very broad-brush personality traits, but how we choose to mold those characteristics depends on us.”
Well, fooey! I can't blame my parents for all my shortcomings or my crazy mistakes. I can't even blame God by complaining that this is just the way He made me and the rest of the world has to put up with it. I have to take some responsibility and shape the crux of who I am into someone I want to be, not just someone with whom I am stuck for eternity. The goal is to work in spite of, or in partnership with, the fundamental components that define each one of us. Our choices determine the outcome and define our character. The time has come to fashion our own destinies with input from some place other than the DNA helix. Wise choices, good company, clean living, kind actions, smart decisions, and unselfishness are decisions of the heart, not directives affixed to the genomic map.
So which is better – succumbing to genetic instinct or determining your fate by conscience decision? Maybe it's not a matter of better or worse, but of seeking the best combination. Whatever your genetic bent, whoever God has created you to be is perfectly fine as long as you couple those predispositions with purposeful decisions. The most important is to choose to follow Christ. From that point on, you can conquer any mountain on which you set your sites. And when you face your fears or even death, you'll still experience the thrill of a great ascension, safe in the arms of a Heavenly Father. He's known you from the beginning and He's watching what you'll make of this exciting conquest.
Be who you are; who you were created to be. And become the best you possible by seeking God's will every step of the journey. That's a climb that ends in victory no matter where or how the original plan began.