Nature or Nurture


When the Russians bred foxes in the 1960s, they discovered they could breed the animals’ fear of humans out of them. Also, their pointed ears began drooping, and their muzzles and tails became less marked by flashes of white. They lost their personality somewhere.  But they became shivering wrecks that peed with excitement every time a human would come near. What is the tradeoff? Droopy foxes that pee for wild foxes that flee?

I recently read about Lee Harvey Oswald and his overbearing mother. At that point I began to wonder if you can be too loved, to the point of becoming irrational or crazy, and shooting presidents.

Speaking of presidents, Theodore Roosevelt was carried around by his dad, instead of being made to walk, for his first few years. His asthma was awful, and doctors thought the child-Teddy wouldn’t even live.  He became incredible, and gregarious, of course, and opinionated and brilliant. He was extremely hyperactive, given to latch onto ideas or hobbies with near-fanaticism. Was this genetic too?

Are we a creation of our own making? or are we genetically predisposed to our acts? This is a question that has been asked a lot lately; possibly every single time someone perpetrates an evil act, or proclaims that they are gay, or far less frequently, do great good for humanity. Is it nature, or nurture, that makes us who we are? Or maybe a happy mix of both: like a gin martini with just the right amount of vermouth. And TWO olives, if you please. I need more vegetables in my diet.

Was Jesus born in the perfect storm, to become the Savior? The right events of history and genetics culminated in a man-god, who was born 2000 years ago in the middle east, who was actually a wholly-good person? If protestant tradition is to be believed, we are wholly-bad creatures who need salvation from the second we burst forth from the womb. Maybe some folks are less-bad? Or less good? What about seventh sons, or first-string baseball players? Is evil or violence, or great athleticism just a fluke? (by the way; I have come to my own conclusions regarding the questions I pose here, but I’m not going to share them today).

What did my genes give me? When I was young I was pretty nervous and smart, my mother said. Really, I was rail-thin and bony. Grandma Myrt used to play xylophone on my ribs, tickling me until I screeched with laughter. I was given to flights of fancy, and loved wild stories. I remember stories of Sinbad the sailor from when I was 2 or 3 years old… He had a genie and fought Rocs. I never get to fight rocs, and Judi won’t let me have a scimitar. I’ll never be a Persian hero of note.

I also remember the story of the shoemaker and the elves.  And Hansel and Gretel. THe big bad wolf. And I remember going to my Aunt Geneva & Uncle Bill’s house and being scared to death by the Wicked Witch scenes in the Wizard of Oz.

I was prone to act badly out of jealousy when I was young. When Lori was a toddler, she had the chicken pox. I think I gave it to her, actually, but she got a little gift to help through her misery and I didn’t. I cried and sobbed and generally made a scene until I got the equal amounts of attention I thought was due me. I got a small plastic… I dunno… it was a pinball machine, I think, mostly to shut me up.

SeussI remember my 4th, or maybe 5th birthday. There were balloons; one of them was big enough for me to ride on, so I did, on the lawn. It popped and scared the bejeezus out of me. I couldn’t get enough attention in those days. I made a paper sign that said “Balloon Tricks Here” and invited all the adults into my room to be amazed by my bouncing balloons on my fingertips. I was imagining a Cat in the Hat trick like the one in the picture. Gradually, the grown-ups I had corralled left to go about their business.

Things changed after I moved to Oregon. I got quieter. More contemplative. My hair went from platinum blond to a mopwater brown. I still love my fantasy and sci fi. But I chilled a bit. I don’t want to run around with a scimitar (usually).

I guess, it’s a combination of a bunch of things. Upbringing, your times, maybe a little genetics thrown in. I’m just me. Back then, I was a nervous, intelligent jealous little PT Barnum with balloons. I’m the same now, I guess; I just don’t have easy access to birthday balloons like I did in the good old days.

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