So this post really should be called something more general like "Genetics and Personality," or "Nature vs. Nurture." Or perhaps: "Free Will and Strength of Character? Ha Ha Ha Ha!"
Because this post is not just about two-timing husbands. It's about how so gosh-darned many things about us are turning out to have a genetic basis.
Pair-Bonding for Dummies
But let's start off with the good vs. the not-so-good husbands. Because it turns out they've found a "monogamy gene" that explains a lot of the difference. (And TherapyDoc has a great discussion of it over at Everyone Needs Therapy).
Yep, according to recent research, there are variants of sections of a gene called "RS3 334" that affect how men bond with their partners. They can have none, one or two copies of the RS3 334 section. "Men with two copies of RS3 334 were more likely to be unmarried than men with one or none, and if they were married, they were twice as likely to have a marital crisis."
(There's a lot more interesting stuff in the monogamy gene article, but alas, no instructions on how to obtain secret samples from your husband to see if you got a dude hard-wired for long-term fidelity).
Mommy, How Come You're Beating Your Head Against the Wall Like That?
(Photo found here; original source unknown)
Actually, if you're going to be stealing DNA samples from your hubby, you might want to swipe one from your kids too. At least after you've read this fascinating Newsweek article on genetics and child development.
New research seems to suggest that parents have much less influence than previously thought on how their kids turn out.
An example: in about 30 percent of kids, their DNA coils carry a glitch that leaves their brains with fewer dopamine receptors. What's the problem with that? Well, for one thing, having fewer dopamine receptors is linked to "an inability to avoid self-destructive behavior such as illicit drug use." Also, children with this genetic variant appear to be less able to learn from mistakes. To quote Newsweek, "no matter how many tests they blow by partying the night before, the lesson just doesn't sink in."
Or how about this surprising finding: "children with a sweet temperament, which is under strong genetic control, are the least likely to emulate their parents and absorb the lessons they teach, while fussy kids are the most likely to do so. Fussy children have a hypersensitive nervous system that is keenly attuned to its surroundings—including what Mom and Dad do and say."
Wow. How many parents have been driving themselves crazy trying to raise their kid "perfectly," and it turns out they've got a kid who's just not wired to absorb any of that well-intentioned parenting?
And these are just a couple of example from a couple of recent articles. Almost any psychological disorder or human strength or weakness you can think of seems to have some link to things we can't control: our genes.
So what does this all mean?
I don't know about you, but I have mixed feelings about the implications of this.
On the one hand, when people are lame and frustrating and they disappoint or annoy me, I want to blame them for their stupid/careless/self-centered behavior. I like to judge other people by my own standards: if I wouldn't do it, then others damn well shouldn't either!
Why should I feel sorry for them when their problems stem from their own clueless behavior? They must not be trying hard enough to be good! Let 'em suffer the consequences! Don't hide behind genetics buddy--you still make the choices.
But if the subject is a personal weakness of mine? Er, well, then I seem to have a different reaction. I am quite happy to discover that this trait is inborn and not my fault. For example, while I don't seem to be wired for aggression or compulsive behavior or dishonesty, I am definitely an anxious, pessimistic type. And hey, anxiety disorders are genetic!
Oh sure, I could suck it up and confront all my worries and fears, but it's harder for me that it is for you. So if I often don't, and instead I cower/sulk/avoid. But you can't really blame me, it's my genes!
Add Personal Responsibility and Stir
Yeah, this is the part where everyone, including me, starts to scream: but wait a minute, genetics aren't everything! Environment isn't either! What about Free Will and Responsibility and Choice?
It has been commonly observed that not everyone with unfortunate genes or a terrible upbringing behaves badly. Nor do folks who have been blessed with calm untroubled temperaments and excellent early home environments necessarily turn out well. However much the game may be rigged, the choices along the way are ours. I do think there's such a thing as "strength of character," and even if that turns out to be mostly genetic too. But it's something we can all learn to improve upon by the exertion of good old fashioned will-power.
We all know what that moment feels like, right? We face a choice between Right and Wrong, and Wrong is easier and more fun and oh so tempting and maybe no one will ever know about it but us. Whether it's as small as skipping a workout, or calling in sick to go to the beach, or as big as an extra-marital affair or picking up a weapon in anger--it's a moment we have the power to decide for ourselves. In that short moment, sometimes only a fraction of a second, we can reclaim our destiny, no matter what plans our genes or environment may have laid out for us.
I think we are "better" people when we do the right thing. And no amount of bad genes or bad environment can entirely take all those moments away from us--even if the luck of the draw may completely change the range of choices we have available.
Tolerance for Other's Limitations: Got Some?
However, in our society (and particularly in the U.S.) we do tend to LOVE the notion of "personal responsibility," especially when it's applied to other people. How do we deal the fact that other people come with entirely different brains, different early childhood experiences, different options?
We don't! We expect everyone to behave the same, regardless of their inborn capacity to do so or the realistic choices available.
One quick example: a study of attitudes toward mental illness recently concluded that while more Americans believe that mental illness has genetic causes than they did 10 years ago, they are no more tolerant of the mentally ill than before.
No Answers Here, This is Just Cranky Fitness!
As I said, I'm confused and hypocritical about what it means that "strength of character" has perhaps only a small part to play in who are are. We are often, as it turns out, a product of our genes, and no doubt our environments.
What do you folks thinks this means? How much of "who you are" are feels like a given, and how much do you get to choose?