Daniel Nettle’s Personality focuses on the psychology behind personality and focuses primarily on what is known as the five-factor model of personality, or ‘the big five.’ In this book, Nettles attempts to explore “how we measure personality, what the measures mean, what they predict, and why personality variations exist in the first place.” He describes that “the idea of the model is that there are five major dimensions along which all human characters vary. Thus, any individual can be given five scores that will tell us a great deal about the ways they are liable to behave through their lives.” While the model is not intended to be a predictor of behavior, the goal is for more light to be shed on the inherent tendencies we can have based on where we align on a continuum. As a scholar in both psychology and anthropology, Nettle identifies the key components of personality traits:
“Personality traits are meaningful, stable, partly genetically inherited consistencies in classes of behaviour. They can be measured using ratings. They come to have predictive power when aggregated over many instances, and as well as affecting our responses to life events, they affect which life events we are going to have.”
After having taken the assessment provided in the book, I ranked in the following order:
- Conscientiousness: High
- Agreeableness: Medium-High
- Extraversion: Medium-High
- Openness: Low-Medium
- Neuroticism: Low-Medium
Not incredibly surprised by this result, I focused on the chapter for Conscientiousness a bit more than the others, finding it to be quite reflective of my personality as well as my family context. There was significant emphasis put on addictions in this chapter and the co-morbidity realities. I do not have a branch on my family tree that does not indicate an addiction to substance abuse, alcohol, nicotine, or gambling for several generations past. While Nettle’s doesn’t address it, there is also a high connection, at least within my family system, to abusive patterns and behaviors. While I could not initially understand his reasoning for starting the chapter with the addictions components he did, I later saw his process as he introduced, “the dimension related to impulse control is called Conscientiousness. High scorers are disciplines, organized, and self-controlled, whereas low scorers are impulsive, spontaneous, and have weaknesses of the will.” The addictions components relate much more to those scoring low on Conscientiousness, and I would say in my case, growing within the chaotic environment I did only exaggerated my high-functioning in this area.
Nettles distills that for the high-scoring Conscientiousness such as myself, we tend to excel in our occupation, have the ability to be internally motivated, enjoy setting and sticking to goals, and do not often require others to tell us what to do. Later in the book Nettle’s describes what is known as person-by environment interactions in which two people can experience the same event but it lead to opposite effects. I would say that for my brother and I this is true. Six years apart, I the younger, we lived through many situations growing up that neither of us ought to have. While his understanding of those situations was much broader than mine due to my age, the trajectory of his life and mine went in completely opposite directions. I think perhaps, watching his choices growing up is what catapulted me into the reality that addiction ran too deep in our family and that if I did not choose abstinence from all substances, I was bound to join in on the dysfunctional and destructive patterns. And most significantly, Jesus entered in.
While there was nothing overtly that I disagreed with in his analysis, I also felt it lacked the full story. While he argues many times that environment, family system, parental influence, etc. do not necessarily impact personality, he does indicate that individuals function based on the big five personality-trait scores, characteristic behaviour patterns, and personal life story. The subtext of this book is “what makes you the way you are” and the entire time reading through I kept asking “but what about who makes me who I am?” As a follower of Christ, the createdness of who I am – both originally in my mother’s womb and the ongoing creating throughout my life – is what defines me more than anything. So while I can see that Nettles desire is to help people more fully understand who they are and make wise choices with that information, I’m left with a few things to ponder:
- What would each of these big five look like had there not been the Fall?
- How do scriptures that talk about our working out, growth, renewal of the mind, etc. tie into the somewhat solidified personality traits Nettles describes?
- How do we as Christian leaders, sitting in our personality, emphasize the truth and hope of Jesus so the world can come to understand that the burden of the ability to change, to grow, to move into healthier patterns can be alleviated significantly by surrendering to him and not attempting to do it on our own?
 Nettle, 8.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 52.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 142-143.
 Ibid., 217.
 Ibid., 236-237.