Originally written as part of my law school applications, 2005
One theory holds that only two different variables shape a person. Genetics is what everyone is given as a starting point. After conception, environment combines with genetics to develop a completely unique individual that is constantly being refined and polished. I do not know whether genetics or environment plays a larger role during the developmental process. I would imagine that it differs with each individual. My life has not convinced me that there is a clear answer to this question. As a product of not only the genetic make-up of my parents, but also of many different environments, it would be impossible to understand my individual beliefs and characteristics without understanding my upbringing.
I could be called a sort of melting pot because of the diversity of my influences. From First Grade through Ninth Grade I had to adapt to many changes. During that time, the physical place I called “home” changed ten times, and I lived with nine different families. Not all of my moves were of the same type. Sometimes I would stay in the same town and school district but change families. I only changed actual school districts eight times. Some of these families were strangers to me, some were relatives, others were close friends and still others were only acquaintances. My nine separate guardians included: my mother, father, two half brothers, one half sister, two previous neighbors, an employee of my family’s business, and my middle school football coach. While I can only touch briefly upon the differences I experienced in each of these homes, I learned to adapt to variance in levels of discipline, beliefs on life and religion, family size, child- rearing methodologies, conceptions of fairness/equity, interpretations of right and wrong, personalities, and interests.
All of my guardians had their own beliefs about how to raise a child and how to live life. Family “Y” was very religious, requiring me to read the bible before school during my fifth grade year. All aspects of my life were highly monitored in that home. I wasn’t allowed to listen to a specific type of music unless it was approved. I lived with family “Z” immediately after “Y.” Family “Z” was not religious at all. Family “Z” also had a more relaxed approach towards child-rearing than family “Y.” I was given more free reign to make my own choices with family “Z.” These examples are just a small sample of the adjustments that I learned to make with each move. What is significant is the fact that every place I lived was different, and in some cases the differences were quite extreme. I had to adjust to a new set of beliefs with each family and I was always fascinated by the inconsistent types of information being impressed on me. Each new experience influenced my development in a unique way, and the beliefs and attitudes that I hold towards many things are no doubt a product of my unusual childhood.
Perhaps even more significant than its influence on my beliefs is my background’s influence on the characteristics that I possess today. Although there are many, my adaptability and sensitivity are two that I consider to be the most affected by my upbringing. Of the two, I think my ability to adapt is strongest. I am able to deal effectively with new situations after having dealt with so many in the past. I became very good with people from having to develop so many new sets of friends at different schools, and I am able to connect with people in short periods of time. For example, I believe that people like to see themselves in other people. This similarity between people is typically how friendships arise, and I seem able to create meaningful connections quickly.
My upbringing has also heightened my sensitivity to my surroundings. I genuinely enjoy other people, and those who know me well would say that I am warm and affectionate. I am very curious of people around me and I often consider how they interpret and feel about different situations. I am empathetic and feel pity for people that I sense are uncomfortable. Overall, my upbringing has caused me to be more reflective than I otherwise might have been. Although being so conscious of my surroundings is sometimes difficult, I prefer it to not being conscious at all. In “The Religion of No Religion,” Alan Watts stated, “Thinking about thinking, and being aware of being aware, is what is called in Japanese “the observing self.” Watching yourself all the time, you become aware of your own hopelessness. The price that human beings pay for self- consciousness is anxiety and guilt...this risk of being trapped like this in a kind of feedback loop of consciousness is the penalty we pay for the gift of being able to know that we know.”
I would not change a single thing about my childhood. My environment helped shape me and is still continuing to affect the ever-changing individual I am today. The influences on my beliefs and characteristics are strong, and knowing their strength helps to develop a sense of the individual that I am. I am grateful for the caring people that surrounded me and for the positive aspects I gleaned from each of them. I can only say that these experiences were beneficial and that I hope my exposure to them will better enable me to make good choices throughout life. Ultimately, I hope these experiences help me when raising my own children some day. While it is debatable whether genetics or environment influenced me more, it is clear that my environment affected me in noteworthy ways.