This is a wee bit — coff — late because a family member had a routine procedure which required me to spend a lot of time in a hospital waiting room.
And while waiting, older son and I got to talking, and what we got to talking about was innate versus trained traits.
The truth is no one knows what the cause of the way any individual is: environment or genetics. I mean, we know both go into it, but not what proportions, nor how easy it might be to train someone out of really counterproductive or difficult genetic traits.
We know humans aren’t cattle, whatever else we are.
What I mean is, as far as we can tell you can’t take the traits of the dam and the sire and get more or less consistently the same traits. Part of it is because cattle is less genetically diverse than us. Which btw means that they’re REALLY not diverse at all.
The Marching Morons effect — for lack of a better term — in which the least intelligent people reproducing over a long period of time would make the entire population moronic is possible. But it’s not possible over one or two generations, because intelligence in humans is not that simple. There are multiple traits that feed into it. And some of them are recessive and inheritance is complicated.
And then there’s environment.
Oy, environment. From what you ate as a child to how prioritized intelligence or a certain type of intelligence was in your culture all of it will affect how your present as an adult and how you express what you have. If you talk to doctors and social workers, you’ll find any number of people who adopt kids of disparate backgrounds and all the kids mimic the parents’ IQ. Which is statistically unlikely for mere genetic inheritance.
The reasons we were talking about it was agreeableness, particularly in familial settings, which older son and I were discussing because it’s sort of how were trying to figure out my er… “life transition.”
By which I don’t mean what most people mean by “change of life” for women. That happened years ago surgically and kind of suddenly.
No, I mean as the boys are almost flying solo, and though it’s a highly anticipated and indeed delayed (because their professional track was difficult and protracted) change, it’s affecting me weirdly.
Part of this, is my “agreeableness.”
This is not quite altruism, but a tendency to set your goals and your identity in relation to other people, which in my case, for reasons genetic or of upbringing mostly is family or adopted family.
So I have a tendency to default to “mother of all living” but more so of course my biological kids.
Which means I find myself trying to reorient and figure not…. not who I am (because I know that, unless I’m busy being a character) but how to orient what I am and how much I like other people’s needs and expectations to affect me.
What I want to do is easy: I want to write.
But it takes time to ratchet away from “pleasing others” to “producing writing” (which also pleases others in a different way.) Because this type of internal turning takes time. Humans, like societies, have inertia and it takes time to change direction.
I’m not proposing, mind you, to stop caring for or about my family and friends. That would take quite a lot and perhaps becoming not me. What I wish to do is stop prioritizing all of my family and friends over me and my routine and the work I wish to do.
It’s harder than you think because agreeableness is both an innate and trained trait.
Also because despite the importance put on women having jobs, society also still expects us to care for others, perhaps more than in the past, since people today have this myth of the woman as universal nurturer. (Which is not true for all women.)
It feels bad and possibly evil to wish to take time for myself and pursue my goals. Yes, I do understand it’s not either bad nor evil, it’s a way to achieve goals which are not in themselves bad or evil.
Feeling this is bad or evil is probably non functional and stupid. But it is there, and it needs to be dealt with in its own language, which is something very difficult, since I neither communicate well with my brain nor with my emotions.
It’s hard to take all the psych-advice books that tell you to think of yourself as worthy and not feeling guilty for pampering yourself, because it always makes me think they’re just making people become selfish.
So, what I’m trying to say: that it’s difficult for cultural and genetic reasons to even believe that you must look after yourself. And yet it is demonstrably true. And yet if you go too far that way it is also demonstrably bad and can rip societal structures apart.
So far, the best advice I’ve found, and what I’m trying to hew to is Peterson’s “Take care of yourself as though you were someone you love that you’re responsible for.”
It’s hard to understate how powerful that idea is. It shouldn’t be. It should be common sense. But between the demands of pathological altruism that have been built into our society and the equal demands of pathological hedonism it’s sometimes hard to hew your way without fearing you’ll fall too hard into the other pole.
But that is a good way to evaluate.
If you were in charge of another person you loved, of course you’d give them their meds and not let them eat only candy.
In the same way, if you were in charge of another person you loved, and this person had a special thing they felt called to do (and which wasn’t, say, chopping up the neighbors and putting them in a trash bag, of course) you’d try to get them time and mental and emotional space to do so, right?
So, I’m now trying to do that. Of course not as straight forward as it sounds. Nothing human ever is.
Agreeableness might be both trained and genetic. But it is still our job to control and aim our traits of either kind.
I’m just having trouble with the idea it’s not either easy nor instant.