Was I born this way, or was I hammered out by the experiences I have lived through? This is a question that has been argued for over a hundred years, and the debate was modernized by Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton (fascinating man that I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I never heard of). I do not expect to answer the question in this posting; I simply share my thoughts on the topic. I came to wondering about this after a nice evening with my hubby discussing the behavior of our various family members and my own place in the family tapestry. I’m sure your family is completely normal and all good; but no musing about nature/nurture is possible without bringing in one’s upbringing, skeletons in closets and all…so I wonder how much of who I am is a reaction to life and how much is predetermined and written in my DNA. I remember in high school and college the 80/20 argument on both sides- but I think the truth is that the ratio is different for each of us.
How many times have I heard, as a teacher at a parent conference, “oh she is just like her mother/my great aunt, or he is just like my brother/his father” or some such rationale for a social, emotional or academic behavior? How many times have I said those words myself? Little things such as spelling ability and big things such as how people handle situations have all been attributed to some poor, possibly deceased relative who can therefore not defend herself or blame someone from even further up the family tree. But how much of this is really inherited, and how much is due to the way one was raised?
I think we are all aware of the sibling studies that show how children raised in the exact same situation come out to be very different from each other as adults. The hell with studies- I can just look at my own family. And we have all heard stories about how identical twins separated at birth with no knowledge of each other’s existence wind up in the same career, marrying a person with the same name and drinking the same beer. There appears to be no possible answer to this question, except that, as I said before, it is different for each of us.
I have my father’s and grandmother’s gift of gab and for languages in general; I have my mother’s and both grandmothers’ cussed levels of independence (apparently my first word was “no” which I used often, even when the question involved cookies. Go figure.); the issue of whose brains I have inherited is a mystery to me. I did not inherit musicality, unfortunately; I did not, thank goodness, inherit the uncanny ability to not take responsibility for anything or to run from bad news. And having grown up when and where and how I did, I can certainly give some credit to the experiences that have shaped me up to be who I am today.
So next time you want to blame Great-uncle Morris for your bad stomach, or your mother for your issues with dealing with confrontation, you can get away with it. Or you can just own up and try for some good old fashioned self-improvement and not put the fault and responsibility (and/or guilt) on someone else. But that’s no fun, is it?