They were born twin boys, the only children of their parents. The older was hairy, the younger was smooth. In our modern terminology we would call them fraternal twins. They were brought up by the same parents in the same household. They had essentially the same resources to draw from during their upbringing. In adulthood, they couldn’t have been more different: the older became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while the younger was a quiet man, dwelling among the tents at home. Daddy loved older twin because he was more adventurous and brought home game; mommy loved younger twin because he was mostly at home keeping her company: Introducing Esau and Jacob, the twin boys of Isaac, the son of Abraham.
As one grows in this world, it soon becomes obvious that not everyone succeeds in this endeavor called life. What I find most intriguing is how a set of twins who shared the same womb at the same time for all of nine months, grow up in the same house raised by the same parents end up with vastly different outcomes. You would have thought that having the same of life’s resources to share would yield nearly similar results. But that rarely happens among fraternal twins. The difference in the personalities of Esau and Jacob is remarkable but their characters and the choices they made in their lives were also very noteworthy. We know Esau made some very poor decisions as a young man, the best known of which was to barter away his birthright for a bowl of soup when he returned from hunting famished. In the course of time, Jacob outmaneuvers Esau and obtains his father’s blessing that was meant for Esau. In the final analysis, Jacob’s descendants become the nation of Israel while Esau founds the lesser-known Edomites. The difference in outcomes between their descendants is staggering for a pair of twins.
The questions that must be asked are which skills and traits lead to success? How do they develop in childhood? And what interventions can help children do better? In our world today, most believe that cognitive skills are supreme determinants of success. We speak of those with high intellect and those with great talent for one activity or the other. But current studies are increasingly showing that cognitive ability is not the single most reliable determinant of how a person’s life turns out. Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth recently published her findings on what distinguishes children who succeed in school from those who did not and concluded that the essential difference was a trait called GRIT, which she defined as passion and perseverance for long term goals. Her work with other leading researchers in the field demonstrated that non-cognitive traits actually prove to be superior predictors of success; traits such as an inclination to persist at boring and often non-rewarding tasks, the ability to delay gratification, and the tendency to follow through on a plan, were far more important than cognitive ability in predicting success.
When psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, authors of the book Character Strengths and Virtues, were pressed to distil the essential elements of character that formed the basis for performance, they suggested grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity. What the current studies seem to suggest is that it is not how much information we can stuff into the brains of little children that determines their success or failure but it is whether we can help them develop persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence. Ultimately, these elements of character determine the choices people make and the outcome of their lives. Esau made some terrible mistakes, and later seemed to turn round and rally. When he reunited with Jacob some 20 years after Jacob outmaneuvered him for his blessing and fled, he seemed to be doing well: he was leader of a troop of 400 men and had enough wealth to cater for them. In Gen 33:9 when Jacob offered Esau a handsome gift to pacify him, Esau replied, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.”
And in Gen 36:6, 7 their combined wealth so large they could not dwell together: “Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together.”
Esau learned his lessons and prospered also but not as much as his brother. Their story shows that regardless of having the same resources as someone else, a poorly developed character will lead to poor choices. It also shows that a poorly developed character can be fixed and rewards result therefrom.
Frank is a cardiothoracic surgeon practicing in Ghana. His work involves mainly pediatric cardiac surgery. Apart from children's health, he's also passionate about lifestyle modifications to promote health.