Nature vs. Nurture
Nature vs. nurture. A common question into what forms the basis of our personality, character, lifestyle, education, and so many other things. And during March, something I dwell upon as I contemplate my heritage and who I am. Are we mainly our genetic makeup, or do the environments in which we live shape us? I believe it’s both—but does it have to be?
The best case study I have for this is my forty-seven-year-old husband, who was adopted as a baby. Cory was born October 16th, 1969 to an unwed, seventeen-year-old mother. After his birth, he remained in the hospital for a week while his mother struggled with the decision on whether to keep him or place him for adoption. After an agonizing battle between her heart and head, she opted for adoption.
On Dec. 3rd, 1969, Cory was adopted by Phyllis and Tom Carpenter, becoming the third child in their family.
Fast forward twenty-six years. Cory meets his birth mother and birth father.
Cory had always wondered who he looked like, although people often commented how much he looked like Phyllis—not knowing he was adopted. When we met his birth parents, we realized he had a mix of both of their features, yet didn’t truly look like either one. But there were other similarities that were striking—especially since he hadn’t grown up around them.
(Cory at age two)
The first thing we noticed was the identical stance of the birth father and Cory—right down to the way they carried themselves.
The birth father and Cory also shared similar personalities—serious, sometimes rigid, but loved to laugh. And both had a difficult time forgiving others and letting go of the past. The other thing they shared—a love for the same kind of beer. Now this might seem like it’s not related, but Cory’s adoptive father, Tom, was killed when Cory was only four, and his mother didn’t drink beer, so I found it to be more than mere coincidence that they both loved malt liquor.
Another strong genetic makeup tendency passed to Cory—alcoholism. Not only did it run rampant on his birth father’s side, but his birth mother had an alcoholic father. And Cory wasn’t far behind. He had abused alcohol as a teenager into his twenties, and had he continued down the path he was on, I’m sure he’d be dead. Instead, he gave up drinking in exchange for a healthy life. His birth father wasn’t as fortunate.
Cory acquired type 1 diabetes from his birth mother’s side. She, two sisters, and their father were all type 1 diabetics. A strong similarity with the birth mother is they are both worriers–about everything. And both are night owls. Cory would rather sleep most of the day and be awake at night, and his birth mom is the same. He definitely didn’t get that from Phyllis.
So how did his environment shape him? Cory laughs like Phyllis. He adopted her belief system, work ethic, honesty, and the importance of serving others from her example. He has strong family bonds that were encouraged and nourished through his childhood with a large extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc. His mother was a proactive parent who put family first and supported him in sports and anything he wanted to try. Cory was and is the same with his children and grandchildren.
And Cory and Phyllis are both stubborn to a fault.
(Cory and Phyllis)
But honestly, when it comes right down to it, we are who we are not because of how we are raised or who raises us, but because of our own personal choices.
Cory’s maternal grandfather and birth father didn’t become alcoholics because their genetic makeup predisposed them to it. They became alcoholics because they chose to drink in excess.
I know people who were brought up in horrible circumstances and rose above to become better people than their parents. And I know people who were brought up in wonderful homes but made decisions that landed them in prison, addicted to drugs, or even dead.
So who are we? a sum of our genetics, a sum of our upbringing, or a mixture of both?
While some things are out of our control, like diseases, the socioeconomic status of our family, or the family we’re born into, those things don’t have to be defining. I believe who we are is up to us.
So the question isn’t really: Who am I?
The question is: Who do I want to be?
And to that I say, figure it out and make it happen.