How the balance between nature and nurture shapes us is something psychologists have been arguing about for about as long as there have been psychologists. How much of who we are comes from the genetic material we inherit, and how much comes from the environment we are exposed to? Faced with these two great forces, do we have much free will at all, or can we only be products of our biology and experience?
Once we become old enough to act for ourselves to any degree, we become active co-creators in making and choosing our environments. What we let ourselves dwell on, what we look at, listen to, go back to repeatedly – these are all things that shape us environmentally, and we do get a say in them. There’s a lot of practical difference between reading a book of nature poems and reading a fascist newspaper, for example. Why we choose one over the other may have a lot to do with where we came from, but at any time, any of us can choose these experiences, or refuse them.
Do you go for a walk in the wood or do you stare at your phone for an hour? Are you listening to music you love or is there some kind of wallpaper noise on in the background? Do you pause in your day to appreciate the good things and to express gratitude? Do you make time for self care or do you treat yourself like a disposable resource? How much time do you spend on things that give you joy, and how much time do you spend doing things you think are pointless, boring, or unpleasant? Do you go online to seek out inspiration, or to pick fights?
It’s in our smallest choices within a day that we construct the environment we inhabit. It is easiest for us to do the things that align with where we’ve come from, but it isn’t inevitable. A little curiosity to explore what we don’t know can open up our choices no end. A willingness to notice what we feel good about and what we don’t and take action on it can lead to radical and powerful life changes. Often it’s the things we do with least thought, as habit, as what people like me do, that define us without our knowing it. No doubt some backgrounds and experiences make it harder to be the kind of adult who can look at how they live and make deliberate changes. Harder, but not, I think, impossible.
We are all shaped, one way and another, by where we come from. It’s easy to mistake that starting point for ‘real’ self. We are all full of far more potential and possibility than we can explore in one lifetime. We all have the scope to be more than we are, and other than we have been. Real freedom comes from owning that, taking total responsibility for who you are, and then living from a place of choice rather than habit.