Question: “What % of who and what you are is determined by genetics vs your own choices? Is it 50/50 or more or less of one? Or should there be three numbers: your genetics, how you were raised, and your own choices (33/33/33 or 10/40/50)?”
The old Nature-vs.-Nurture debate. For what it’s worth, I think that the second half of the question raises an interesting point, namely: Without Nature, and without Nurture, how could you make your own unique choices to begin with?
I definitely do not think that there’s an equal input into all factors, based entirely on my own experience. In the European panoply of cultures, there can hardly be two more disparate than Russian and Irish. For one thing, the countries themselves occupy the two extreme ends of Europe. For another, Irish culture is based to a large extent on the proximity of the sea, and the plethora of rocks in the soil, whereas Russian culture is very rooted in the rich earth that makes farming such an important part of its history.
So why, all my life, have I been drawn to the Russian side of my family? I can’t truthfully say that there has been no input from the Russian side; after my mother was widowed young, she married a Polish man the next year, and although Russian and Polish cultures do have their differences, there are enough similarities that I’ve always felt more comfortable around Eastern Europeans generally. This does not explain why the only attraction of Irish culture for me is the music.
Then there’s the question of your own choices. Here I do come down heavily on the side of Nurture. Both my husband and I are classical-music lovers — another of those inborn traits, since neither of our families cares much for it, and we both love it — so that’s pretty much the only music you will hear in our house. At one point in my life, I even worked at a classical-music radio station, and one day, one of the announcers and I were chatting about kids and music. “Even if your kids grow up to prefer rock ‘n’ roll,” he said, “they will only be able to choose good rock ‘n’ roll. The trashy stuff will have no appeal for them.” I was a little surprised at the notion that anybody could actually prefer rock ‘n’ roll, but I had, of course, forgotten the Rebellion factor; kids do tend to make at least some choices opposite their parents’ preferences, purely as a matter of asserting their own selves. And sure enough, both of mine prefer rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s the stuff even I can listen to without cringing.
However, I also think that Nurture helps to shape your own inborn tendencies. I’m thinking specifically of my own lifelong conservatism. Where we grew up, every house in the neighborhood flew the American flag every day of the Vietnam War, and picked up the practice again during the Gulf War (and, presumably, during these current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars — I haven’t been home in too many years, since nobody’s left from the old neighborhood). Yet, the Vietnam era was one of extreme turbulence and rebellion. So why didn’t I break away? Why did so few of us from the neighborhood break away?
I don’t think it was because we would have been shunned by every house on the block. If enough of us had done so, we could have formed our own subculture very easily; after all, in those years, and in that town, kids outnumbered adults on an average of 4:1. Yet nearly all of us either served in the military, or had a family member who was serving, or we loved someone who was serving. Those were our choices, insofar as we actively chose them; certainly the neighborhood culture had a lot to do with our patriotism.
But I’ve noticed something interesting over the years: We all stayed pretty conservative. Most of us were first-generation Republicans, and that had a lot to do with the 1968 Democratic convention, which repudiated the Vietnam War, something that Just Wasn’t Done in our hometown. Democrat or Republican, we all went to church on Sundays in our town, and nearly all of us continue that practice in our old age, even if we let it slip during our fruitful years. I firmly believe that the choices we supposedly made all on our own were implanted in us at birth — patriotism, community, put-up-or-shut-up — and nurtured all throughout our school years and into young adulthood. I’m not sure we could have chosen any differently, no matter how hard we tried.
So, my own ratio? 50% Nature. 45% Nurture. And 5% my own choices. And from what I can see, that’s pretty much how it falls out for everyone else I know.