Nature or nurture? It seems like an eternal question, although as science progresses, we may get more and more of a definitive answer. There are several of my attributes that I can easily ascribe to nurture (both good and bad — sorry, mom!), and certainly a whole bunch that are based on the caprice of genetics.
One of the most profound attributes that I ascribe to nurture, though, is an internal locus of control. And it has shaped me more than most other characteristics.
Let’s start with dropping a little Wikipedia knowledge:
Individuals with a high internal locus of control believe that events result primarily from their own behavior and actions. Those with a low internal locus of control believe that powerful others, fate, or chance primarily determine events.
That’s a neat summary, but it really glosses over the implications.
I have some fairly-distant relatives who, for instance, when something good happens to them, ascribe it to luck. “Ah, that’s good luck!” is a common phrase. Or, perhaps more commonly, they shake their fist at the universe when something bad happens.
My perspective tends to be quite different. It’s not that I believe I control every aspect of my life (indeed, several recent events in my life of the past few years have highlighted that I don’t!), but rather that my behaviors and actions are a primary cause of what happens to me next.
The result when I was a kid was that I was more observant of my actions and their consequences. I acted out less than most kids (sometimes to the ridicule of my wife, who is convinced I was the Most Boring Child Ever). I focused on effort and achievement. I nurtured key relationships, especially with influential adults. And I was happier.
As an adult, I find that the last of those is the most important side effect: I’m generally a happy, optimistic person. Because fundamentally, I think that if (when) things go wrong or events converge to cause havoc, the results of my actions will make a difference. So if I act well, the outcome will certainly improve. And to the degree that I can control it or influence it, it surely can’t be as bad as it seems.
So thanks, parents. Nice going on that one.