An audience member wrote: “I would like to learn more about understanding what makes us the way we are.” Hmm, as in what makes us human or what makes us different than others? I wasn’t sure how to start my return email and, yet, I did. Here is my attempt:
The Chicken or Egg Theory
The Chicken or Egg Theory asks, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg? But let us look at the egg in a different way. Some eggs have naturally weak yolks and some have strong yolks. Yet, how the chicken treats her egg–with love and attention or neglect or destruction–will shape its destiny. Also, an egg’s future is affected by how the chef treats it. Consider the texture of an egg that is fried compared to beaten, scrambled, poached, boiled or coddled.
This is parallel to the Environment versus Nurture Debate. No one has determined exactly how much of our behavior is influenced by hereditary factors including brain function and hormones, in comparison to our cultural and family influences and shaping. How much can humans be disciplined or manipulated into meeting external expectations? And to what benefit or detriment? In the early 18th century it was believed that children were blank slates upon which adults could “write” or prescribe how they would become.
We now know from studies done with identical twins separated at birth that our personalities are significantly influenced by our genetic make-up. I have read that 50% of our personality is pre-determined and I have read 30%. But either percentage leaves a lot of flex room.
Neuro-linguistic programming introduced the idea of three main ways we take in information and use it–visually, auditorily and kinetically/physically. Then, Howard Gardner’s research in multiple intelligences awakened us to the fact that we have different abilities–innate gifts for music or spatial ability or language or physical agility or introspection or social ability. Children, well all of us, have strengths to discover and be nurtured. How sad to see a boy who has a gift for quiet focus and philosophic contemplation being forced to play aggressive hockey. How sad to see a girl who is strong and physically confident forced to play the piano while being banned from playing hockey. Thank goodness many of these sexist norms are changing. You can take a Multiple Intelligence Test test.
As well, the Myers-Briggs personality indicator points out that we all have inborn preferences—introversion (energized by being with oneself) versus extroversion (energized by being with others), ease with sensing (ease with detail) versus intuition (ease with instinct), thinking logically versus ease with feelings and care for others and last ease with making a quick decision versus ease with exploring many different options. You can take the Myers Briggs indicator assessment tool.
What happens when the environment tries to put us in a square hole when we are a round peg? As a child and teen, I and others thought I was a “shy” person. In actuality, I lived with the fear of speaking up and consequently was internally shut down. I was influenced or “programmed” to act passively in order to feel safe. When the best of me was able to flourish the result was the outgoing, extroverted and expressive woman you witnessed on the platform at your conference.
Our daughter, Katie, has a preference for introversion. When I sent her off to Brownies she came home feeling angry; “At school, they make me play with the other kids. Then you send me where I have to be told what to do and be with a bunch of other kids. I just want to read in my room.” Fortunately, we honored her protest. Do not worry. She did learn to play successfully with other children, yet with lots of time to be by herself.
So, while we are born with “natural tendencies,” we can learn to adapt and cope in ways that lead us to success in a variety of environments with a variety of expectations. Ideally, the external environment nurtures us to be and act in our and our communities’ best interests. The Virtues Project, by Linda Popov, provides a structure for encouraging behaviors which instil peace and harmony for all. These virtues have stood the test of time and are supported by many world religions and governances. The project is based on virtues such as compassion, courage, forgiveness, generosity, honesty, justice, respect, self-discipline, thankfulness, and trustworthiness. Most of us encourage children and adults, for that matter, to demonstrate these virtues and their accompanying behaviors. But the modeling and reinforcing of them often go amiss.
Some adults unknowingly reward the opposite of the virtues. Some children are coddled and highly protected. How can children develop courage if they are not encouraged to take risks? Some children are waited on hand and foot as if adults are servants. How can children develop a sense of personal trustworthiness if they are not left with significant responsibility? Some children are told lies. They might be told, “We’re fine. There’s nothing to worry about,” even when their family is falling apart or there is a huge problem. How can children develop honesty when they are not supported in honestly dealing with painful realities?
As adults, we often wonder why we struggle to live the authentic life we want for ourselves. We need to be kind about this human dilemma. We can remind ourselves that our genetics don’t provide the whole answer about what makes us different. But neither do our childhood and cultural programming. We have free will to choose for ourselves and yet, that is not easy with all the voices of persuasion begging for our attention. Perhaps the best we can do is:
- decide on our gifts and strengths
- use them whenever and wherever we can
- define the values and virtues by which we want to live
- aim to act upon them
- do our best to be our best and with compassion let go the rest!
Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type by Isabel Briggs Myers and Peter B. Myers
The Virtues Project by Linda Popov
Please check out these related posts:
Use a List of Values to Help Focus Your Time and Energy
The World of the Introvert and Extrovert Cheat Sheet
Book Summary: Self-compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
Guest Book Review: A Pace of Grace: The Virtues of a Sustainable Life, by Donna Wheatcroft