Sunday, December 18, 2011

Life 101–Genetics in Motion

Years ago we planted a pair of twin lodgepole pines outside the studio window where I sit each winter morning beside the wood stove with my first cup of coffee. From that window I have watched the trees grow taller and wider every year since they were tall enough to see from my winter morning perch. I don’t recall what year we planted them nor that we had deliberately planted two trees together and it was several years before I realized they were two separate trees, but their growth patterns are very different. Despite growing side by side, one is bushy with needles that cling for years, the other has bunches of needles on the ends of the branches with only two years’ growth by this time of year. The third year needles fall off during autumn.

Genetics. Our genes regulate not only how we look, but how we intuit certain outside stimuli. Ben and I watched a documentary film a couple of nights ago about the differences of three sons in a single family. The oldest boy had been adopted, so he had different genes than the other two. That boy had grown up with a propensity for being the center of attention; he made several movies with his parents’ camera and was always the star of the show. And though he didn’t know how to play the piano, couldn’t read music, he was able to sit down and play beautiful tunes.

During the period of time covered in the documentary, the oldest son found out who his birth mother was. She had died, but he discovered that she was the offspring of two famous actors. He also found out that his great grandmother had been a pianist.

Many kinds of animals on the earth have what we term genetic imprints. These imprints, or what scientists believe are imprints, are different than instincts and can lead some animals to follow established migratory routes even though they were never led by their parents.

We don’t like to believe that we humans could be regulated by genes, but we know our genetics affect many aspects of our humanity. We don’t want to believe we have any sort of regulatory imprints and we have fought for generations to vanquish instincts that every other animal on earth has. No matter how much we want to believe otherwise, we are deeply affected by our genetic heritage.

But what I don’t believe is that we cannot overrule traits or tendencies that are undesirable, destructive, or lack benefit to us or our loved ones. We have one trait that most other animals don’t have: reason. It’s the most powerful genetic trait that we have, but is also the one we use the least. Through reason we can benefit not only those around us, but ourselves. We can override destructive traits and develop beneficial ones.

So why don’t we more fully access our reason? It’s not the easy way to live; it’s a lot of hard work and self-discipline. And it takes a lot of concentration which many people believe is better used to make a lavish living. And so many of the undesirable traits serve people well in establishing that lavish living.

But another thing I know is that letting those traits fly free, we cannot find true happiness. We may be able to find riches and status, but not joy, not love, and not spiritual freedom. And, yet, we can still develop lavish living without those traits. Just as we can make use of hard work to overcome undesirable traits, we can use hard work to develop desirable traits which will bring wealth and prestige if that’s what we truly want. In short, we can earn it and earning it brings a rich, full happiness on it’s own.

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