So... While I had all sorts of plans for this blog and what topics I would write about every day, I am also open to random thoughts that come to me, and today it is nature versus nurture.
It cannot be a coincidence that this topic has come across my plate several times in the past couple of months. Most recently a friend of mine got into discussions about this subject with someone who was relating the idea to the subject of trauma, its effect on us (whether the trauma is overt or not), and it's effect through generational genetic changes. The working theory is (and I am paraphrasing here) traumatic experiences cause genetic changes that can be passed down through generations. In another recent conversation with a friend of mine, she referred to the possible effects of slavery and separation on the family unit, especially in relation to Caribbean families. She wondered if this affected our tendency to form strong family units based on monogamous romantic relationships, or are we destined to be plagued by infidelity and its acceptance, especially among males. I should say here - this is an obvious and blatant generalization and the purpose of this post is not to discuss my opinion on infidelity, but simply to relate the conversation and my thoughts around it. Are we destined by our genetics, or are we more influenced by our environment? And for me personally – do I believe that my tendency towards certain physical or behavioural traits is genetic, or due to my upbringing?
While I am aware that there has been much research done on this (twin studies and those of children who were adopted etc) my personal observation of this has been that sometimes it is not as straightforward, and far more difficult to separate the two effects. To show this, I will state an example that I recently came across. I met a man who was of the belief that the men in his family could not "keep it in their pants" or as we Bajans like to say - they were wutless. He proceeded to explain to me that it was something familial that his grandfather and father had experienced and now his sons were experiencing as well and reflected on how sorry he felt for them with the temptation all around. (As an aside, it raised an interesting question in mind - is there a wutlessness gene?) Do they really have no control over their behavior regarding infidelity (because somehow it's not just that they are predisposed to having a high sex drive, it is actually that they must actually have "nuff women" - his words BTW...)
He was convinced that was the case. However, I also noticed the language that he used, and I have heard adults have conversations in earshot of children (whether they think they are listening or not) about how "he going to be wutless just like his father". In addition (and I won't go into it here) I believe that the opinions we hold about other people are communicated to them through our thoughts and behavior - whether we say the words or not. So to counter the argument of genetics - in an environment where the child may be picking up on the behavior either overtly (it is being said or he is witnessing it, seeing the behavior played out in his own family dynamic or hearing the discussion) or passively (nothing may be said but there is something unspoken in the house hold) - could it simply be that the child grew up believing he was expected to behave that way, or even entitled? And of course, in addition to a household held belief, there may be reinforcement by peer groups or societal norms.
While these questions are important, what concerns me more is that our belief in some genetic control can often remove our sense of empowerment over the condition or behavior. While a genetic predisposition make us more likely to have certain traits, often our biggest obstacles are the ones we build ourselves. And while we may not all be able to climb every mountain or swim every stream, we need to believe that we have the ability to inflict change in order for it to happen. Sometimes I don't even want to ask the question is it nature or nurture (in relation to my own behaviours), but simply - can I take any steps to make necessary changes to prevent myself from being a self-fulfilling prophecy?
I have actually done with with a number of aspects of my own health, even when I could convince myself that there may have been familial or genetic tendencies. For me, the critical thing was to make every attempt to divorce myself from the behavior that I feared or thought was genetic, and make sure that I got and continue to seek any assistance I may need the ensure that I am not a self-fulfilling prophecy... Therefore, I try to ensure that neither nature nor nurture determines my eventual decisions or behavior. Instead of just saying - this is my lot in life so this is what I will do, I seek a change.
And the thing is, there is so much research out there now showing that things like food, mood, exercise and mindfulness to name a few have effects on how our genetics are expressed, and on growing new brain cells. So it may be that the same way that the trauma can change our DNA and be passed onto the next generation, we can engage in positive activities which can produce positive genetic changes which we could also pass down to the next generation. And that is a process I would much rather spend my time on than trying to figure out if I am predisposed to something negative. Now I should say – there are a number of familial medical conditions that may fall outside the scope of this conversation, and I am not suggesting that you ignore them in favor of food and mood. Instead (and I am speaking to myself here as much as I am to anyone else) I think that we should focus on empowerment rather than nature/nurture. On teaching our young people about the power of choice, instead of letting them feel doomed to a particular lot in life.
So that is it from me on day 3. Tomorrow is new recipe Wednesday, and so I am going to search for a light bite or starter recipe that I can try. A friend from work suggested that I do the weeks using a country theme, so what I may do is find the recipe and then pose a few questions about either the country or the dish, and to those persons who can answer these questions correctly, as well as those in upcoming weeks, there will be a prize of having the full meal cooked at some point in November.
I look forward to catching up with you tomorrow. Until then, I send big love from a small island.
PS on the subject of nature, the above is a photo I took of the full moon a few months ago. I actually chased the moon across the sky for this photo!!! I remember two separate friends saying to me that they found people behave particularly strange around the time of the full moon... I suppose that truly is the effect of nature...