Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Journey in Self-Knowledge

Written by: on April 8, 2022

Reading Daniel Nettle’s “Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are” was worth it for many reasons, but especially for his closing encouragement: “None of this [the content of his book] means changing your personality. It means understanding what your personality entails, and using this information to make wise choices. This requires many things, one of which is self-knowledge.”[1] This encouragement resonates with what I have experienced the entire DLGP journey to be about—a deepening self-knowledge added to developing layered global maps that explore the multi-faceted dimensions impacting leaders molded by the person of Jesus Christ in today’s world.  But I am getting ahead of myself.


Nettle’s book integrates the fields of psychology, neuroscience, genetics, and evolutionary studies as he examines the nature of personality and what its make-up means for humans collectively and individually.[2] The historical notes he includes grounds his work in the evolutionary discoveries being made in the late 1800s forward.[3] The personality framework he develops rests on what he (and others) calls the “five-factor model of personality or the big five.”[4] Before he unpacks these five personality dimensions in chapters three through seven, he makes use of his first chapter to explore what makes up a personality trait and traces some of the key developments of how personality has been and is currently being measured. In his second chapter he unpacks the role of evolution in personality development, especially the challenging issue of why variations in personality have evolved. Then, step-by-step in the following five chapters, Nettle describes through science and case studies the core of each personality dimension and its respective cluster of characteristics. From there he also discusses both the evolutionary and present-day costs and benefits to each dimension and each end of that dimension. The five dimensions are: extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness.


In chapter eight Nettle addresses the thorny issue of environmental influences on personality development, saying, “People often talk as if the environmental effects had been well understood for decades, and the new discovery was that there were genetic effects too. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.”[5] He concludes, “Whether we are talking about genetic, prenatal…, or postnatal environmental influences…they have all done their work, automatically, implacably, and certainly with no reference to our wishes, long before we have become self-aware adults.”[6] This leads him to his final chapter where he explores what one can then do with the personality one has, and his closing encouragement quoted above.


I was reminded of Akiko Busch’s book, “How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency”[7] as Nettle traced the impact of genome sequencing on understanding personality. Busch writes about her concerns over fading privacy in our lives. I found myself wondering as I read Nettle in light of Busch, if genome sequencing becomes common place for us to know our physical and mental vulnerabilities,[8] how will this information be used by the medical field and insurance companies? What then becomes a pre-existing condition not covered for treatment? Can our ethical and moral frameworks and practices keep up with scientific discoveries? What then will it mean to work for just and equitable access to medical and mental health care?


I was also reminded of both Vincent J. Miller’s book[9] and Max Weber’s book[10] as Nettle explored the unconditioned incentive of social status as the anchor for both the Protestant work ethic and the excesses of consumerism. Social status is one of the factors at work in the extroversion personality dimension which drives us forward in the relentless drive of finding the good stuff in our environment.[11] Weber argued this work drive was fueled by anxiety over one’s status with God, leading to the lived theology that the material rewards of hard work confirmed the favor of God toward the one who worked hard and materially succeeded. Nettle seems to suggest that it is not more money that drives us forward, but rather it is a deep evolutionary sense that more stuff equates to a higher social status and that this is a deep unconditioned incentive for humanity—or at least for those among us who are higher on the extroversion personality dimension.  This observation by Nettle also left me wondering about the interaction between the personality dimension of extroversion and levels of dopamine which also impact our drive for more (Lieberman and Long).[12]


These differing insights on the same human behaviors leaves me respectful of our complexity as individuals and societies. As I continue to develop my NPO, I am realizing out of this week’s reading and reflections that creating space for young adults to experience a growing self-knowledge in interaction with the complexities of the world around them will need to be part of my underlying foundation.

[1] Nettle, Daniel. 2009. Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are. 1. publ. in paperback. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 248.


[2] Ibid., 8ff.


[3] Ibid., 15.


[4] Ibid., 9.


[5] Ibid., 211.


[6] Ibid., 233.


[7] Busch, Akiko. 2019. How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. New York: Penguin Press.


[8] Nettle, 12.


[9] Miller, Vincent Jude. 2013. Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Religion. Repr. New York: Continuum.


[10] Weber, Max, Peter Baehr, and Gordon C. Wells. 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics. New York: Penguin Books.


[11] Nettle, 86-87.


[12] Lieberman, Daniel Z, and Michael E Long. 2019. The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity-and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.

About the Author

Elmarie Parker

14 responses to “A Journey in Self-Knowledge”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Elmarie: I enjoyed Nettle’s section about nature versus nurture in determining our personalities. He brought clarification about which influence was studied first and how much each plays a part. Nice connections also, to Miller and Weber. I hadn’t thought about the the implications of social status with this subject but there is a book waiting to be written about it. Did you find Nettle’s book helpful to you as you develop your NPO?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Troy. Thank you for your comments. It would be an interesting book indeed to take a deeper look at Nettle’s view of social status and its engagement with the themes from Miller and Weber.

      For my NPO, Nettle’s book has added another layer or dimension for me to explore. I think one of my main take-aways is his closing encouragement of learning how to live well within both the constraints and gifts one’s own personality wiring. Some of the feedback I’m hearing from my young adult stakeholders is how challenging it is for them to live well in their own skin and the resultant mental health issues that ensue from this. Of course, there are many instigating factors that contribute to them not feeling comfortable in their own skin. Many of those have not been within their ability to control. But now, as they enter into adulthood, I’d like to be a part of helping them develop agency and capacity to redemptively thrive in who they are, in who God has made them to be and in how God is working in and through both their places of brokenness and strength (or another way of thinking about that…the way in which their brokenness may in fact be gift and strength through the grace of Jesus at work in and through them).

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Elmarie, your summary of the book should be posted online as it’s much better than any review I read! I appreciate the amount of connections you made to previous readings, especially to Busch. Your mention of genome sequencing reminded me of how much of human personality remains mysterious as that study exists in its infancy. Toward the end, you point to the differences of drive between Weber and Nettle. Do you see the need to accept one theory over the other, or do you think it’s a both/and choice?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Roy. Thank you for your encouraging feedback on my post. Indeed, genome sequencing as it relates to the mysteries of personality is yet early in its development. But, it will come, just as it has already come for determining vulnerability to physical diseases. I hope the commitment to developing ethical frameworks for evaluating use/application of these scientific technologies will happen in sync with or before the technologies, so that we, as a society, can wisely use them and curtail abuse of them.

      Regarding your closing question about choosing between Nettle and Weber or doing the both/and…my sense is this is a both/and situation and goes to our complexity as human beings and as human societies. It would make for some interesting research if it hasn’t yet been done. What do you think? Is it a both/and from your perspective or does a choice need to be made?

  3. Yes, I agree with Roy’s comment. Incredible summary and reflection! I’d love to read your thoughts on personality theory and Middle Eastern culture and worldview. What does typology/personality theory offer a more Easter worldview? Where does it fall short?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Michael…thank you for your question about how personality theory relates to a Middle Eastern (ME) context. My sense, in reading Nettle’s work on the big five (I keep thinking of Africa when I read ‘big five’ but for very different reasons from personality theory :)), is this theory would resonate in a ME context as well. I see the same dimensions at work there in individuals; certainly the neuro-science implications are similar. I think the contextual issue becomes relevant on the environmental, ‘living-out’ of one’s personality wiring side-of-things. I think that happens differently in a more communal, shame-based culture than it does in a more individualistic, guilt-based culture. And, as Nettle says, we have so much more to learn about environmental impacts on personality development. I have several Lebanese therapist friends in Beirut–I’d love to discuss Nettle’s book with them and get their take on his hypotheses and conclusions.

      What is your experience of the tensions between nature/nurture when it comes to personality development?

  4. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Elmarie, outstanding reflections on Nettle. I especially like the connections you make with Busch, Miller and Weber’s books. What overlap, if any, do you see between Nettle and the doctrinal position of PCUSA?

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    I agree with Roy, that was an exceptional post! It was free flowing, inciteful, and invoking all at the same time.

    In regarding to understanding “self” and your focus on the younger generation, do you think methodologies have adapted or do you see there being a sense of universal approaches (to help foster greater self-understanding) that span the depths of time, language, culture, and socio-economic factors?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Eric. Thanks so much for your encouraging feedback on my post and for your thought-provoking question.

      Do I think methodologies have adapted or do I see there being a sense of universal approaches (to help foster greater self-understanding) that span the depths of time, language, culture, and socio-economic factors? Great question.

      I’m in the midst of exploring this right now with stakeholders as they help me test-drive an assessment that explores how individuals and groups work with difference (cultural, ethnic, linguistic, religious, political, etc.). This assessment has already been normed in a wide range of contexts around the globe. So, I’m very curious to see what I will learn from their experience and feedback as I work with stakeholders from both Oregon and Beirut.

      I do think that methodologies have developed over the years because we’ve learned more about the complexities of who we are as individuals and societies and we’re more aware of implicit biases and how power/status/socio-economic levels influence understanding of self and others. Part of the challenge before us, I believe, is understanding the assumptions being made by any methodology we utilize, especially its strengths, short-comings/blind-spots, and biases. And, the only way to do that is to get feedback from ‘outside,’ whatever that might mean for a particular methodology. Perhaps the biggest shift in utilizing methodologies is some of what Miller was getting at in his book on commodification–we’ve moved as societies from having an implicit trust in ‘experts’ to questioning everything and everyone. This makes our kind of work harder in a sense, but it also has the possibility of pushing us towards greater authenticity in our work with others…especially those who are different from ourselves in one significant way or another.

      I’m especially interested in what you have encountered in your work as it has intersected with a growing self-awareness among team members and socio-economic influences! What have you observed or experienced over the years?

  6. mm Andy Hale says:

    There are so many good connections here from the previous reading. I found myself taking notes!

    Knowing your NPO, it is fascinating to see how you are connecting this reading. I, too, found this week’s reading to be impactful towards my design research and implementation of my main prototype moving forward.

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Wow! What great integration of some of our readings from this last year!

    What theology bubbles up from combining Weber and Nettle’s arguments on drives humans? How does it interact with An Everyone Cultures argument on for a vulnerable “work” environment? Do Kegan and Lahey’s statement about the things people value now relating the the “new Incomes” (pg 8) hold any weight when you consider that in light of what Weber and Nettle say?

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Elmaire, this was a very interesting post. I never would have thought to connect Busch. The medically related questions are fascinating. I am curious if the medical profession worked more closely to provide health advise that is narrowed to specific genome if it would reduce the costs and/or need to have a pre-existing discussion?

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