Environment or genes, what makes us who we are?

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vito

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When I was a young man I read about how traditional Japanese families would hire private detectives to research the family background of a prospective spouse for their child, and should it be discovered that several generations earlier that prospect's ancestors showed signs of mental illness, or criminality, the wedding would be prohibited. I remember thinking how backward and ignorant they were, for not recognizing that it is the environment, not the genetics that determines our character and personality. But now that I am older I am quite convinced that I was very wrong in that assessment.

My wife and I raised five children, and while none are exactly like me (if nothing else, I am a "gun" nut, a motorcyclist, and I was career military and none of my children share any of those things) four of the five are essentially like my wife and I. They are honest, law abiding citizens. None drink to excess. None got involved in illegal drugs. All married (and one divorced) and they have children of their own who are seemingly continuing in the family tradition as what most would call "good people". But my fifth child, the youngest, has chosen a totally different path. Although reasonably intelligent, he dropped out of school in the 10th grade (all the others graduated college). He has had several run ins with the criminal justice system, including two felonies, and at 21 is already well on the way to being an alcoholic. My other kids are all reasonably ambitious, i.e., wanting to improve their lot in life for themselves and their families, but this youngest one seems to have little or no ambition. Unable to hold or now find a job, he is living a marginal life. Their is one other difference: this youngest child is adopted. He came to us as an infant foster child, and later when his teenage mother had her parental rights terminated by the state (the birth father was never in the picture) we adopted him. We were later told that his birth father was a wanted criminal and gang member, but of course our son has never met nor even heard this fact about his birth father.

And so though I had always believed that if you raise a child with good values to model themselves on, with faith in God, they will turn out right. But maybe everything that we have done and provided were just not enough to overcome the impact of "bad" genes.

I guess I am not really asking the question, only pondering the obvious reality. I don't blame myself for how this child has turned out. I still hope that he can turn things around and go on to become a good citizen, and a good person who will contribute to the community. But I am very saddened at what he has become and fearful that this is what he is and that there is certainly nothing at this stage that I can do about it.
 

Ruger1441

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I am sure genes have an affect. I remember in college the teacher saying that kids were a blank slate for the parents to write on. That statement was the biggest load of crap that I heard in college (and that is saying a lot). My kids were born with different personalities from day one. I think that people might have a tendence towards certain things like alcoloism.
 

Mike J

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He may right his ways yet Vito. I know when I was raised in the church & taught right from wrong. When old enough to do what I wanted I spent just about all my resources on alcohol & stupidity. There came a time when a change occurred. I met some people that taught me how to live without drinking & I slowly came back to the values I was raised with. My Mother told me she always believed I would come back. She stood on Proverbs 22:6 it says, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old he will not depart from it." She said it doesn't say the child might not stray for a time but that at some point it will return to what is right.
FWIW There were a lot of folks with drinking problems in our family history including my Mothers parents but she made the choice that she did not want that kind of life for us and she raised us very differently from the way she grew up. I will pray for you & your adoptive child.
 
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Vito the question nurture vs nature has been debated since before I was born. I was raised be a nurse, whose father was a doctor, and mother a nurse. This was discussed often around the dinner table. After 45 years of Nursing, there is a subtle interaction between genetics and environment. Genetics play a bigger role in one person than another, who may be more affected by environment. It would be nice if each child came with an owners manual. As a parent, Vito the one thing you can always do is love him. That does not include bailing him out of his troubles. Good luck. Prayers sent for you, your wife, and your son.
gramps
 

Bob Wright

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I don't believe either "makes" anyone what they are. They are what they are by choice.

Bob Wright
 

volshooter

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We can only do our best to teach and be role models. I have watched way to many children raised in Christian homes go nuts when they leave. I my self followed genes and done everything wrong that could be done.
I got my mind right now boss.
I believe it is genetics or choice, not raising. Some of us just predisposed to get into trouble and act ugly.
Hell I liked it.
I am housebroken but not domesticated to this day. I pray every day for not being ugly.
Rick
 

RugerHound

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I grew up in a family of 7 kids. 6 boys, one girl. (Youngest)

The 2nd from the oldest and 2nd from the youngest were troublesome... More self-destructive than anything... The 2nd from the youngest was a hardcore drunk and drug user... Ended up in jail a few times. The 2nd from the oldest was in a rock & roll band, put out 3 records and live the American dream for a while before alcohol shot his career to pieces. He died in 2012 drunk at 69 years old. The next to youngest lives in the Florida Keys on a boat, doesn't have a pot to pi$$ in or a window to throw it out of otherwise. Toothless, wore out, still a drunk but has given up the drugs.

I was troublesome - Mixed it up with a 1% biker gang at 17, struggled with dope and booze until not that long ago... But I always worked, paid my own way and didn't ask anyone for anything. Thankfully I got my head together.

Rest of the family did alright...

So out of 7, one was a full time dud, 1 was a full time dud after 30, and one (me) was a potential dud that never quite fizzled out. Whatcha gonna do ? All out of the same incubator, all grew up in the same place.

Free will and some hard wiring has everything to do with how we turn out. Sometimes we get lucky... Sometimes we don't. Life is a crap shoot.
 

Mike J

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Bob Wright said:
I don't believe either "makes" anyone what they are. They are what they are by choice.

Bob Wright

I would agree that free will is always a factor. There is also the factor of the environment the child is exposed to before adoption. Even if it is not consciously remembered things that occur as an infant could effect a person later in life. I have a female friend that was adopted. She was raised in a loving caring home. She had her own difficulties but worked through them. She told me once that she was talking to a therapist about feelings of abandonment. He pointed out to her that for 9 months she heard her mothers heartbeat heard her voice, etc. then after she was born that person was gone & never encountered again.
 

finesse_r

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I think it is pretty obvious that both have an impact. However, genetics determine the upper limits of intelligence, while socialization determines if someone attains those upper limits. Genetics determine your potential for good or evil and socialization determines where in the potential range the individual will end up.

The old saying the apple does not fall far from the tree is appropriate. Genetics are important in that you will never educate an idiot to become a genius. Genetics predispose people to be happy or sad, but socialization can impact that basic predisposition. Genetics predispose people to be susceptible to various diseases like cancer, but behavior (smoking) and environment (toxic waste) can increase that susceptibility. Some people (small percentage) are genetically not predisposed to cancer and smoking will not affect some of them.

While you cannot make a genius out of someone born with genetically determined mental limitations, you can however take someone born with the potential to be a genius and deprive him or her of learning and impose a severely negative environment on them and prevent their developing their potential. So the range in which individuals can possibly function is genetically determined, but it is socialization they determines if they reach their potential or not.

I hate seeing all this BS about schools failing our students, when in fact it is the type of students we are now sending to schools that is the biggest factor in our declining test scores and the increasing failure rate of students.

Some groups have many more members that are predisposed genetically to violent behavior, and when they are improperly socialized (single parent with little interest in them), their likely hood of becoming a gang member is much higher than those of other groups that are not so predisposed to violence. These are statistical probabilities and not iron clad absolutes.

So anyone that thinks race is not a factor in behavior or in intelligence is just not paying attention. However, it is not the only factor and you cannot predict individual behavior from group statistics. Group statistics are valid only in discussion groups and tendencies, and absolutely cannot be used to predict individual behavior.

So it is difficult to simplify this question of genetics or socialization. But it is a mistake to ignore the massive impact of genetics. You cannot breed two German Shepherds and get a Cocker Spaniel puppy.

However, genetics are only probabilities and breeding any two people together can produce a wide variety of possible offspring in any individual situation. Probabilities are on valid in comparing groups and cannot be used in an individual situation. However, it is very probably that most people will produce offspring with similar potentials to the parents or the grand parents or great grand parents. That is why the Japanese mentioned above checked out several generations back before allowing their children to marry.

Free will and choice of course play a part. We are not purely animals guided by outside sources. However, the amount of free will that a person can exercise is at least in part determined by genetics and socialization.
 
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A lot of alcoholics have a family history of it. But others seem to pick it up all on their own. Some people just drink a lot when they're young and grow out of it.

21 is pretty young still. Just because he isn't following the same schedule as the others doesn't mean he won't get somewhere fine in life eventually.

I was the youngest in a family of college graduates who flunked out first time around. Was a ne'er-do-well for a few years, (no convictions) got married, had kids and a mortgage, worked hard to pay my bills. Went back to school around 35; just retired from 20 years as a Registered Nurse.

Two felonies at 21 is not a good sign. But there are always a few people who unexpectedly take charge of their own lives and go against all predictions of failure. All you can do is love this son and provide appropriate support when he's able to benefit from it. If I were you I would feel sad and fearful for his future too.
 

powder smoke

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I think it is a combination of Genetics and Environment the two mix and
what comes to be is a personality. Life experiences and hard wiring in the brain
co mingle and create a unique individual. Life is short live it. JMO no actual
basis for this theory. ps
 

stevemb

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What powdersmoke said. It is a blend of the two, and more. You cannot simplify it down to one or the other, only. Hence the debate will never end.
 

stevemb

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In any debate by experts, there is one constant fact. Half the experts are wrong. A cheerful thought aye ?
 

Cooperhawk

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Nature vs Nurture. The age old question. When I was first out of college and really big on Psychology I really believed in the Nurture side of it. College Professors preach that pretty good. Then reality set in with an alcoholic Wife and looking back in her family I saw the Nature side of it. There was a lot of it in her ancestry. Then I started to worry about my own children. Confusing to say the least.

Because of my Wife's problems I delved deeply into alcoholism. I found that for some folks it was a gradual slide down the well oiled slope to the disease, while for others it only took that one fateful drink the they were lost. That's called a "Genetic Predisposition". It was in their genes. Maybe someday we'll find a way to turn that gene off.

Now I know that it's a mix of all factors. There is no good way to predict who will be what, but if there is a problem in the parents, there is a good chance it will manifest itself with the children sooner or later. Some factors skip a generation or two and then show up again.

As the original poster mentioned the Japaneses are a very old society and through generations of ancestry they have learned to look for indicators in past family members. The thing is that is not always a truthful way to select a spouse. Some traits are learned, some are genetic.

I have observed however that intelligence and certain skills seem to be inherited quite regularly, along with physical characteristics. Want to know what a person might look like in later years, look at the parents. (Again not always true).
 

Jimbo357mag

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There was a program on PBS last night about E.O. Wilson that brought up many of these same questions and more, especially about societies.

http://www.pbs.org/program/eo-wilson/
 

volshooter

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Dadgum fine post Cooperhawk! I read it several times, each more carefully. You said it all.
Neither side of my family were drinkers as far back as either grandparents (1910), yet I indulged heavy for many years with a high tolerance? Both my children are occasional drinkers with high tolerances.
My fathers side were/are unpredictable dangerous folks, mom's were pert near Quaker like.
I'm not sure anyone will ever figure out why some folks are the way they are.
 

SAJohn

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There some highly intelligent, thoughtful people on this forum and this series of posts prove it. As with many of you, I have given this topic a fair bit thought and have come to the conclusion that it is a complicated combination of both nature and nurture.

What really interests me is how hard wired we are going back to the cave man days of survival.
Examples include being suspicious of people who look different, the male/female relationship, the male liking to hunt, and women liking salads.
 

Bear Paw Jack

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Like a few others here I got interested in psychology in college and before it was done I had a masters degree. I got into doing counseling and taught at a college for a while. I think we all understand that there is a combination of environment and genes and I tend to think that the combinations vary by individual, then throw in free will and I kind of cut to the chase and say that what nature or environment throws at you is not nearly as important as how you respond to those things. Obviously if you are genetically predisposed to cancer, or heart attack and a young age, the decisions you make can alter time frames or long term effect but you are still going to be dealing with those things at some point. There are other things that like genetics are not as obvious. They mingle with the other things with a big piece of free will. You can see it particularly well with kids (especially teenagers). You can have a group of 40 kids and the two biggest trouble makers will be drawn together like magnets. What you just saw was a combination of environment and free well. They end up encouraging each other toward trouble.
I have talked to people over the years and am always amazed at the answer I get to a particular question. "Is there something that happened between you and your parents that has never been resolved?" I don't care how old people are they will relate a story that is so real to them it's like it happened yesterday. Hebrews 12:15 says "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;" Key words are, failing to obtain "grace of God", and "Root of bitterness".
There are things that happen between parents and kids. Some times those things end up being (as they say) the straw that broke the camels back. It's amazing some of the stories I've heard and when discussed with the parent it was so insignificant the parent had no idea what the kid was talking about. When that incident happens God provides grace for forgiveness. But kids being what they are refuse it and allow the root of bitterness to (like a sticker) to get stuck under the skin and it grows and grows, like a root. Bitterness cause all kinds of issues with people. We all know that, and we all recognize it in other people but rarely in our self. We know it's not good for other people but refuse to admit it affects us. I've seen the same thing between a husband and wife. Bitterness will lead people right off track of what we know is right and after that the attitude is "he owes it to me, I deserve it, there's nothing he can do, etc. Until that is dealt with it leads to drug use, alcohol abuse, anti social behavior, all kinds of stuff. Good news is it can be turned around, if they are willing to do it. If not it plays a major factor in our behavior for the rest of our days. Please over look the sermon, wasn't meant toward anyone in particular.
 

jpickar

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Mike J said:
Bob Wright said:
I don't believe either "makes" anyone what they are. They are what they are by choice.

Bob Wright

I would agree that free will is always a factor. There is also the factor of the environment the child is exposed to before adoption. Even if it is not consciously remembered things that occur as an infant could effect a person later in life. I have a female friend that was adopted. She was raised in a loving caring home. She had her own difficulties but worked through them. She told me once that she was talking to a therapist about feelings of abandonment. He pointed out to her that for 9 months she heard her mothers heartbeat heard her voice, etc. then after she was born that person was gone & never encountered again.


I believe that what Mike has said is a lot of it. Having gone through theophaustic healing I know that was a big part of things in my life, unremembered trauma. Things I couldn't remember otherwise.

--Unremembered trauma- A definate influence, especially in adopted children from bad situations.
--genes- only in mental capabilities
--environment- a big part
--PERSONALITY- I have found that the personality that a person is born with determines a lot how they respond to life and trauma.
BIRTH ORDER-- I have talked to dozens of parents and have even described how that child acts from just knowing the birth order. I truly believe that birth order determines personality generally speaking as there are no absolutes. I believe that God determines these two things. I know of no other explanation for the patterns I have seen.
And of course the effects of inbred sin nature that affects us all.

There are no easy set answers. Birth order/Personality/Environment/Trauma/Genes is how I rate how and why people do the things they do. I could be argued that Birth Order/ Personality could be misunderstood as Genetic.
But like I said there is not set answer.

Hang in there buddy and never stop praying for your child, children, grand children. God hears your prayers. He just doesn't always answer then the way we want Him to.
 

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