Okay. So we’re born into this world, not knowing who we are or why we’re here. Hopefully we experience great love and care right away. And no, there is no intent here to try a deep dive into the psychology of personal growth in a wacko world… simply a jog around the block of “what are some of the elements that make us different from each other.”
My question today is, how much of our true selves is changed by the world, and how much of our true selves actually survive, maybe flourish? For we are all blank canvases, to some degree, bringing into this world our unique genetic makeup… the makeup that will ultimately define our personalities.
First off, it would be good to at least agree that life in this world changes us to one degree or another. Being in agreement on that, then, it would also be good to know whether those changes were positive or negative. Did our life experiences change us for the better or for the worse? Ah, there’s the rub!
We know, for instance, that some bad people grew and became better people over time. And of course the opposite is also true, that some good folk went bad over time. So far, all fairly normal assumptions, as life, as we know it, is complicated. So my next question would be, what is the element or elements that are in a bad or luckless person that push that person to improve themselves and their station despite life’s ongoing difficulties? And if those elements exist on some level, then are those same elements perhaps not present in the good people who go bad?
We also know that each of us has a unique genetic makeup, which largely defines who we might become. That is, who we might become if left alone to grow up into a world in which our natural abilities are promoted and assisted by a good educational system. In that regard, we would pretty much be on our own to develop (or not develop) our perceived special skills. We would then be mostly at the mercy of our genetic makeup, to find our interests and passions. We would also be responsible for whether to pursue those passions or not. Hmm. Suddenly we would be the architects of our own destiny, rather than the somewhat passive victims of life’s ups and downs.
I think we can see right here how important our genetic makeup really is. My feeling is that we can fight and actually change, for the better, some of our genetic makeup. Part of the secret of that is having to first be aware of it, aware that it’s a part of us… a part we would like to change, improve.
There is so much of our genetic makeup, of who we are, that we probably don’t or can’t recognize, as that part is taken for granted by us, or even protected with pride as a part of our unique makeup. I know this as I have, over the years, tried to totally dissect myself, to discover what the hell is actually going on in there, and why.
For me, anyway, it’s fascinating, and occasionally scary! There are elements afoot in me that I’ve been able to trace back three generations. My English, Swedish and Finnish heritage has guided me, pushed me, and sometimes batted me about in ways I will never understand. And I believe we all have those genetic mysteries raging around inside us, all seeking recognition of some sort.
When we put the power of our genetic influences into motion with the experiences of our everyday lives, then wow! Think of the possibilities. The influence that the outside world puts on our basic selves is huge, to say the least; yet often our genetic makeup resists some, of not most, of those worldly influences.
The problems that basic daily life offers us can challenge our “better instincts,” our intuition, our unwritten code of ethics. Where we come from, how and with whom we grew up, and that eternal bugaboo, our genes, all descend on us to decide how we navigate each day, even each hour. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? And it is, which is why we respond to each challenge the way we do, and why we occasionally surprise ourselves with an action or response that doesn’t even seem like us.
For we have moods and feelings that can change from day to day. We might be in a mood or a preoccupation one day, only to find out that life and momentary circumstance doesn’t give a whit about our momentary mood, and challenges us to make a decision, or respond to it in some manner.
Right there is the moment we find out who we really are. Do we have a knee-jerk emotional response that we might regret later, or do we pause and perhaps quickly access our memory and experience to react in the best way possible? The answer to those questions can help us define how much of ourselves is controlled by our genetics, and how much is controlled by our life experiences.
For ease and clarity, I’ve broken all this down to three different internal areas of response to life’s daily challenges. Personally, I’ve come to think that I’m pretty much a 30-30-40 guy. 30 mom’s genes, 30 Dad’s genes, 40 my life experiences. My occasional emotional responses come from my mom, my occasional calm assessment of a thing comes from my dad, and the rest come from my memory of past experiences of mistakes I’ve made. The older I get, the more I rely on those past experiences, whether good or bad. How I now handle any daily complications comes from experience, and from trying to change myself into some of the qualities that a few great people inspired me to reach for.
Yes, outside positive influences can actually work… and they have worked, for me. I can tell you now that I’m a much more thoughtful, caring individual than I once was. That comes, almost completely, from my experiences with the outside world, from some of the exceptional people I’ve met and been influenced by over the years, and of course from what I gathered and absorbed from my time with the Buddhists.
It’s true, we usually can’t change another person. But it’s also true that we can change ourselves. And if that flies in the face of what you believe, that you might think you are simply and only what you’re meant to be, and that you can’t change that… well, you might be right… but you also might be wrong. Perhaps you just don’t want to change, that you’re happy with yourself, just as you are, and probably have always been.
That’s okay, we all reap what we sow. But I do know this – if we don’t like where we are in life, the first place to look for both the blame and the fix… is within. And I know, no one wants to hear that, they are all too busy with the daily challenges of their lives to stop and look inward for answers. Hell, most people want someone to fix it for them, they don’t want to hear that they are responsible for where they are in this world. They don’t want to hear that they are the only ones who can really solve their problem.
Those who feel they are victims in this life can easily find blame for their circumstance in a variety of outside situations that somehow “changed their lives.” They don’t want to consider how their response to those circumstances might have changed the result. And that’s too bad, because there is power in how they handle their daily challenges, a power that can guide their lives in a more positive direction, if they are willing to accept who they are, and how they might change, to redirect the outcome of their challenges.
To stop being a victim and take responsibility for who, and where you are in life, requires courage and a certain amount of insight . I think most of us have it… we are just too lazy or bull-headed to face our problems and and use our insight to handle them.. For me, it’s a little like taking a pill to ease the symptom, rather than going directly to the problem and dealing with that. It’s like one of your tires losing air… you can treat the symptom and put more air in it, but ultimately you’re going to have to get that tire repaired.
And so, theoretically, would it be safe to say that we are totally responsible for who we ultimately become? Or are elements of the outside world responsible for a good part of us? Probably it’s a combination of both. For me, my life changed for the better several times from the dramatic influences of the outside world. All along I’ve been the grateful recipient of good fortune, of simple good luck! Yes, good luck. Maybe good karma, but that’s a stretch at best.
Plainly and simply, I’ve had a lot of good luck with people and circumstances that I ran with, but would be hard pressed to take credit for. A willingness to try new and different things benefited me for sure, and a happy series of saying yes to good people and new challenges led me to some wonderful places and fine opportunities. Now what part of me can take credit for that? What part of my genetic makeup or my life experiences is responsible for the wonderful series of positive events? I’m damned if I know, really. Most likely an exotic mixture of both, salted heavily with good fortune and enough good sense to take advantage of it.
Kind of funny, isn’t it? All that self-analysis to realize I’ve been changed a whole bunch by the outside world, but only within the scope of my genetic ability to deal with it and turn it into a positive. Now why didn’t I just state that up front and save us all from this painful search for an insight to a truth? Hell, I don’t know. Probably blame it an a genetic hiccup. Verbosity, thy name is Steve Hulse. I’m known to a few as a wordy little bastard. They didn’t really know me at all, but they were sure right about that.