Heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger, BUT . . .
After graduating from Pacific Union College in 1977 I headed to Andrews University to get a Masters degree. While there I had the privilege of taking classes from Ruth Murdoch, a retired professor who by then was an icon in education and psychology. (The large elementary school in Berrien Springs had already been named after her.) On a day that she was scheduled to give a presentation, it just so happened that my father-in-law was visiting us and attended the talk with me. He had been attending psychiatry meetings in Chicago and drove up to Andrews to say to hi.
Her presentation was about the nature vs. nurture question and at one point in the talk she stated that “heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” It was a catchy phrase that emphasized her point well. (So catchy that I still remember it 35 years later.) Although it was not necessarily a discussion format I noticed that at this point my father-in-law, Charles Lindsay, was raising his hand. I hadn’t been a part of the Lindsay family that long (Maggie and I had been married only a few months then) yet I had heard of Charles legendary antics. At that moment I could only wonder what he had in mind as Dr. Murdoch stopped her presentation and acknowledged him.
“I think heredity is important,” Charles began, “and I think environment is super important, too, but I also think that the power of choice can overrule both of them.” Dr. Murdoch affirmed the point Charles had made and went on with her talk, but I don’t think I went with her, so to speak, because what Charles said made a real impression on me.
At this time in my life, early 1978, I had not even heard of William Glasser (although I would read Schools Without Failure for one of my MA classes in April of that year), yet there was something in me, the very young version of me, that resonated with the theme of choice and freedom. I would learn later that it was in early 1978 that the power of choice began resonating with Glasser, too, as it was then that he started working with William Powers. Powers introduced Glasser to control theory and mentored Glasser as the new ideas took hold. It would be a few years down the road before control theory would take hold of me, too, 14 years to be exact. As a young principal I read The Quality School in 1992 and I have been on a distinct journey ever since.
Charles Lindsay, a psychiatrist and to me an icon in his own right, said something very significant that day. Our heredity may be flawed and our environment might have been troubled, but we need not be captives of dysfunction. Our power to choose can be a part of overcoming a painful or frustrating past. I say “part of” because I believe Jesus was right when He said that without Him we can’t do anything. (John 15:5) And Steps to Christ reminds us that “Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within . . that power is Christ.” (SC 18) Our power of choice does have an important role in our lives, but it can only go so far. Real heart change comes when our choices are tied into the Holy Spirit’s leading and power.
Heredity is important, and environment is important, but the power of choice can overrule them both.