Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Factoid: Environment

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: If you'd grown up in a different environment, do you think you'd have turned out the same?

Wow, no, absolutely not.

There are some aspects of our personalities and nature that we are probably born with or predisposed toward. But our specific interests depend on what we're exposed to and what we're encouraged or discouraged to like; our preferences depend on what options we encounter and what attitudes are modeled or whether we're adventurous about them; our attitudes depend heavily on those of people we have around us; and our opportunities are enhanced by or limited by the circumstances we're raised in.

If you're raised in a certain religion, you're certainly going to be more knowledgeable about that religion and likely to be surrounded by people who have an investment in your acceptance of that religion. It doesn't guarantee that you'll embrace that religion as an adult, but it's far more likely that you will do so than the possibility of your embracing a religion that isn't popular in your country. And yet, many people seem to think they were just lucky enough to get born into a family that practices the right religion, and don't give a thought to how the culture they're surrounded by pressures you to accept and builds your mind around its tenets with strong ties to wrong and right. Similarly, though few other belief systems are quite as contentious as religion, you will be influenced to think certain things are good or bad or desirable or undesirable based on your upbringing and your culture, and what you're exposed to beyond that is extremely variable. Some people credit being raised with a strong value or belief with becoming the foundation of their happiness, and others credit that same environment with showing them how wrong it is, instilling them with a desire to seek out something else.

And privilege is a huge deal. It's amazing how many people who live(d) in swimming pool–sized dollops of privilege believe their advantages had nothing to do with their success. Instead of acknowledging, say, that they had a) a wealthy enough household to make ends meet, ensuring comfort and safety; b) educational materials readily available; c) parents or guardians who encouraged them, helped them, and valued their academic success; and d) a culture full of people like themselves whose success is normalized . . . they still seem to think their ability to excel in education and their career is primarily a function of their inherent drive, intelligence, and proper temperament. They really believe that people who lacked some or all of what they had were given equal access to opportunities, and they really believe they earned what they have without help.

If I tried to count up all the ways I was advantaged since before I was born I think I would be writing this blog entry all day long.

And to be a bit more specific, let's look at this: I've always thought of myself as a writer and had dreams of doing it professionally, and there's no specific model of "writer" in my family that I was trying to emulate, but I was taught from an early age to love books and stories.

The fact that I ran with this and became a storyteller as an adult while my sisters didn't (despite sharing most of the same upbringing) does speak to some individual variation, of course, but I'm certainly not arguing against inborn inclinations or suggesting we're all complete blank slates. I'm saying if I had been exposed to something else throughout my early childhood and helped to enjoy it, I might have had different aspirations or seen stories differently--and it's certain that children who don't have as much access to books have less likelihood of loving stories when they're older. This applies to everything we embrace in our adulthood, from the food we eat to the values we teach to the next generation.

It's just baffling to me sometimes that people do sometimes believe they'd essentially be the same person if they'd had wildly different circumstances. We are always at least partially a product of our environment, and it helps to remember that when we're trying to relate to people who are very different from us.

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