In March of this year, researchers completed a study which concluded a certain degree of our ability to experience varying levels of happiness is indeed genetic. Likewise, there are studies which reveal the genetic markers controlling the degree to which humans will experience shyness as well as other behaviors such as hostility. The secular, scientific age we live in gives us partial answers to age old questions. Yet, in spite of these conclusions, science is not able to categorically conclude all behavior or personality is something we are born with or derived solely from biology. It appears that at least fifty percent is left to chance and it is within that fifty percent we are either shaped by our own ability to decide or we are shaped by circumstance and other variables such as the influences of family, peers or society.
Self knowledge can be identified early in life. Certain symbols can become life long certainties. Like a ballerina spotting an object while she twirls, there can be focal points which remain with us always. These are decisions we formed on our own and are hard to dislodge. For a long time, I have privately referred to it as the Rosebud Theory and I base it on my own love of pink rosebuds. I can personally remember as far back as two years of age, wanting and needing to see, wear, have pink rosebuds. It was visceral. I wanted my dresses to be adorned with them, I was drawn to baby dolls with “rosebud” mouths. Illustrations in picture books decorated with rosebud borders became my favorites. No matter what I have done or experienced in life, the one constant has been rosebuds. Metaphorical rosebuds for sure, represented by the kind of books I like to read, the movies I like to watch, the hobbies I have. All are akin to the romantic beauty of a rosebud. This is the self I create and hold sacred; and while it may not necessarily be a ’rosebud’ for other people, I believe there is something similarly representative in everyone’s deeply embedded core. Something, which, like a rosebud, remains constant to define them, on their terms and will unfurl to become a complex person based on the bud that defines our innate preferences.
When a boat is tethered by a single line to a dock, it may drift in a myriad of directions. Depending on the conditions of the wind it may drift close to the edge of the dock, safely bumping against the moorings, sheltered somewhat from the wider lake. Or, the wind may kick up and pull the boat out far from the dock, the line taut and strained to a breaking point, far from the original source of safety. Humans are like this. We can be influenced by forces, be they powerful personalities or intervening circumstances, to drift a long way from our original mooring. It may be hard to remain tethered to ideas we form on our own. We may indeed find the influence of ideas we encounter or people we meet overpowering and may even abandon convictions, change our behavior based on the tug of society’s powerful currents. These changes may occur through personal choice or in subtle forms of coercion
It is human nature to believe you are in charge of your opinions or actions. And while, as I briefly alluded to, science can explain some of our behavior as being genetic it also makes sense this genetic basis is malleable. In the happiness study I referred to, the researchers were able to conclude a person’s ability to increase their degree of happiness was dependent on circumstance. So while our “happiness set point” might be one we are born with, the effects of circumstance can increase or decrease our propensity to experience true happiness. Likewise, it is logical to assume other kinds of circumstance can alter who we are or think we are.
During the run up to the recent election, I found it intriguing to read the brief, yet explosive posts written on the social networking sight ‘Twitter’. One in particular caught my eye. The person posting posited the question “Is it possible to be married to someone who votes opposite you?” The responses that poured in were overwhelmingly “NO!” This reaction made me wonder how many of those relationships were genuinely comprised of two individuals who came to a relationship with completely sympathetic views. I pondered the possibility of one personality overcoming another to accomplish such a completely synchronized view. In this way, it is easy to see the extent to which others can create us. If the tables were turned, perhaps if the individual was married to another kind of voter, their preference would or could be altered. Like the boat tethered to the dock, the wind whips you in one direction or another and the circumstances of the situation, the inter-personal relationships, alters what may lie at your core.
However, you may never relinquish your most deeply held love of rosebuds…