Who are you?

A strange one from the Daily Post today.

Topic #291:

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).

Most times when someone talks about who you are, the context makes their specific meaning very clear. This is not one of those times. Honestly I’m not even sure what the question is trying to ask, it seems to be combining at least two different meanings of “who you are”.

The scientific community has been arguing for decades over how much of a person’s personality is genetic and how much environmental, the “nature vs nurture” argument. To contrast genetics against your own choices, and ask which has more influence over your personality, is puzzling to say the least. Surely your personality determines your choices, not the other way around!

You could make a case for one’s decisions shaping their life, certainly, and even indirectly changing the development of their personality. But in which directly influence which, it’s clearly the personality affecting the decisions.

But maybe that’s not what it’s asking. Maybe the real question is, “Can you decide who you are going to be, or is that determined by nature/nurture and you simply have to accept yourself as you are?” I’ve touched on this subject before, and it gets really hard to find the edges of it. I mean, if you want to change something about yourself, is that already a part of you? For that matter, does why you want to change say more about you, or your environment?

Consider the question of whether being gay is a choice or not.

If it is a choice, then tens of millions of Americans have made it, despite being one of the most hated groups in this country. The “ex-gay” types choose it, apparently with no difficulty, and then choose against it, which requires lots of Pavlovian therapy and psychological abuse, and then they usually choose to be gay again, once more with no trouble. Ted Haggard has chosen to be gay many times, very quietly, and always makes a big production of choosing to be straight. People are ostracized, fired from their jobs, beaten, and murdered for this choice. What part of them makes this decision?

If it is not a choice, there is still a decision involved. The choice to live openly as you are and face persecution and violence, or to hide yourself and live in a sort of self-imposed misery. You face the choice to be who you are or to pretend otherwise.

A far better example (but one that doesn’t let me take a cheap shot at Ted Haggard & the ex-gays) is to consider a transsexual. As far as I know, people who identify as transsexual do not feel that they have a choice, without exception. The only choice they face is whether to change their bodies to match their minds.

If a man decides to become a woman, because he’s always felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body, where does the choice begin there? Where is the boundary between nature and decision? If he’s always felt like a woman, then this isn’t a choice to become a transsexual, because he’s always been that, hasn’t he? (Pronouns get awkward really quickly when talking about transsexuals, have you noticed that? Stupid language.)

I know a woman who writes. She’s said that she doesn’t choose to write, it’s such a part of her that she can’t not. She was surprised to learn that I do choose to write, that it would be very easy for me to shut down this blog and throw away my journal and just not write anymore. To her writing is a part of who she is, while to me writing is a part of becoming who I wish to be.

Getting back to the original question, the one I still haven’t satisfied myself that I understand, I don’t think a percentage is a useful metric here. First it almost certainly would not be consistent from one person to the next, and second how would you quantify it? How can you measure that? I’ll leave that for trained professionals, people much better at analyzing such things. In the meantime, I guess I’ve no choice but to take each person individually as they are, and as they wish to be, and only idly speculate as to how much is genetic, learned, or chosen.

Take care of each other.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on October 30, 2011, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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