DLGP

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

The Chemistry behind Character

Written by: on January 12, 2022

Categorized under social science literature and based on the 1957 research of Kathleen Montagu[1], The Molecule of More is an enlightening book on mental health written by Daniel Lieberman and Michael Long. The authors are long-standing behavioral health experts who have written extensively on various mental health issues including the effect of Dopamine on mental health, business, creativity, love, sex, and political inclination. In seven compelling chapters Lieberman and Long respond to pertinent questions such as people’s unflinching loyalty to a particular political ideology; why humans might be obsessed about something yet quickly get bored after achieving their objective; and more.

The book also addresses the question of why love fades, and by extension, the alarming levels of divorce and separation in contemporary culture. The answer, it turns out, is Dopamine, a chemical in the brain that is responsible for why we “crave the unexpected and thus look to the future, where every exciting possibility begins[2].” But it is not only political inclination, obsession, and love that Dopamine is responsible for. Remarkably, it also drives creativity, susceptibility to substance abuse, and the desire for progress.

Fortunately, the authors point out that we do not have to be controlled by Dopamine. Instead, we can ride on it in a positive way, such as during crisis management, yet benefit from another God-given component of the brain, H&N neurotransmitters, to enjoy seasons of stability[3]. The Molecule of More is, therefore, further scientific proof that humans, being blessed with both Dopamine and H&N neurotransmitters, are “wonderfully and fearfully created,” as Psalm 119:134 clearly states.

One important fact raised by Lieberman and Long is that boosting Dopamine also increases “exploratory behavior[4].”  For followers of Jesus, this makes one wonder whether people called to cross-cultural missions in the “uttermost parts of the earth[5],” some of whom have already travelled to a remarkable number of countries, have more Dopamine than most of us. If this is correct, a related question is whether the higher levels of Dopamine simply supplement the missionary grace, or whether this is actually an important (biological) element of that grace. While the authors may not address that question, the possibility leaves me amazed at the intersection of creation and science, and wondering how many other remarkable realities are waiting to be discovered.

The widespread effect of Dopamine also has interesting implications for my NPO, the lack of holistic development within low-income communities. For example, if Dopamine levels positively correlate with levels of creativity, then have any studies been conducted to test the Dopamine levels of the poor? If so, what were the findings or conclusions? More importantly, what mental health interventions could boost creativity, adventure, and progress within low-income communities and how do these align with the scriptures? These are some of the questions The Molecule of More raises in my mind, and I sense that somewhere in the text, the Bible, related books, and the comments of friends I am privileged to meet, lies an answer that would satisfy that quest.

 

 

[1] Daniel Z. Lieberman and Mchael E. Long, 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: Benbella Books, 2018), 21.

[2] Lieberman and Long, Molecule of More, 24.

[3] Ibid., 88.

[4] Ibid., 181.

[5] Acts 1:8

About the Author

mm

Henry Gwani

Disciple, husband, father, community development practitioner and student of leadership working among marginalized communities in South Africa

5 responses to “The Chemistry behind Character”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Henry, this is a very insightful post. I really enjoyed two insights you raise. First, you ask about the dopamine level in those who serve as cross-cultural missionaries. What a wonderful hypothesis to consider! Since my parents left their country and culture, the possibility is also personal for me. I suspect the answer to that question is “yes, they do have higher levels of dopamine.” Second, you ask the question about dopamine levels within the poor. In your experience, do you find the dynamics of poverty to be mostly nature or nurture? I’m sure there is some combination of both, but my experience concludes that poverty creates a culture of its own, often difficult to overcome. I would love to hear you thoughts about that.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Well said, brother. First off, your title. Very interesting. Have you read Nicole’s post? I suggested that perhaps our character is ‘fueled’ by dopamine, at least when it comes to things like tenacity, etc.

    Also, I think you are spot on when considering the apolstolic movement of the church (both with Jesus and the disciples, as well as today) and the connection to dopamine.

    I would be interested to know if there is a connection between the “poor” and dopamine as well. If you find anything, please let me know!

  3. mm Andy Hale says:

    Henry,

    As you talk about Dopamine for your context, in what new ways can you think holistically about ministering to your community that goes beyond the traditional methods the church has considered? How do wellness, relationships, exercise, and healthy eating fit into the conversation?

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Henry: I love the connections and questions you have raised. I think your questions specifically regarding dopamine levels among the poor is fascinating to consider. Perhaps that is an area that you’ll be able to dive into for further research as you develop your NPO prototype this semester.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Henry, you seem to find and see things that never would have crossed my mind. As a foreigner worker I am particularly drawn to that part of your post. I think of the missionaries I have worked with I think that there is initially a “dopamine” drive that may get them to the field. But if they are going to maintain any long- term ministry they have a well-developed, H&N response. I also thought about this chemical response in terms of short-term missions. I have this sense that churches in the west have created mission junkies because of our focus on short-term results that can be achieved on projects and short-term mission trips. They excite people by giving them a quick reward with the promise of its impact in the Kingdom. In the end, we have people that are addicted to the short -term reward with little to no long-term commitment or change.

Leave a Reply