"Genetics" "Physiology" "Biology" "Brain chemistry"
Me: Good. How many of those things do we choose?
Me: Right. What else influences us?
Students: Family. Schools. Neighborhood. Church. Culture. Geography.
Me: Good. How many of THOSE things do we choose?
Me: Good. We could also talk about nutritional habits, which are significantly cultural but we have a bit more "choice," our friendships, some of which seem to "just happen" while others seem more selective...
Other things come up. We discuss advertising and other media which no one wants to personally admit being influenced by but everyone thinks other people are influenced. I often ask how many of them seriously considered NOT going to college. It is usually very few. We talk about different kinds of experiences (positive and traumatic), teachers and youth ministers that they did not choose but who had significant influence.
At this point many of them are reeling and ready to become full blown socio-biological Calvinists.
Then I ask some version of this question:
"Do you think people decide to be (fill in the blank - racists, murderers, thieves, child-abusers)?"
Some students at this point might say: "Well no one MAKES them do it!" to which I reply, "So why do some people make those "decisions" and others don't?"
At this point, the exercise has a number of directions we can take it. The most basic is this:
"We all showed up in this classroom together having made very few (if any) real autonomous choices for ourselves. At best, we chose from a very particular and narrow range of options, given that the most determinative aspects of our decision making capacity AND the menu of options were NOT under our control. We are who we are, so let's try to be honest about our perspectives in here and give each other grace. Let's allow each other to try out new ideas and perspectives without labeling or feeling like we have to embrace a whole new identity. We are not fully formed, so we can challenge each other to think differently. You each are now an unchosen influence on the others."
I'll demonstrate some other directions to take this exercise in future posts.