Our Environmental Genome
Why you should read this. About 4 minutes
A child’s development actually begins long before conception. It begins with how you were nurtured as a child, and how your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents were nurtured as well.
That paragraph makes it sound as though we are hopelessly screwed, as individuals, couples, families, cultures, and as a species. Well, if we don’t change how we take care of ourselves, each other, and our children, we are.
For centuries, experts have argued which is more important, “Nature,” or “Nurture.” Which has more effect on our development they wonder; what we born with, or what happens to us after we get here?
Consider these facts.
- The socioeconomic status, mood, and nutrition of the parents, from conception on, have life-long effects on the health, behavior, relationships, and mental stability of the child and, through them, future generations.
- Most of who we will be as an adult is determined by age three
- Our brain and personality are basically mature by age seven.
The inescapable conclusion is that how we are nurtured is most important. How we are treated in the womb and as a very young child determines the kind of adult we will eventually become.
Nurture dictates so much we did not know before, down to switching on, or off, gene systems that may have life-long health or behavior consequences. Our mental and emotional development is finished before we have the thinking skills to evaluate what happened to us.
Our Environmental Genome
At the moment of conception, we not only inherit our physical characteristics, we inherit the environment into which we will be born. As a fetus, helpless baby, and developing child, we are completely subject to the levels of skill, nurturing, nutrition, coping, and perspective present in our family members, their friends, their religion, and their diet.
Considering the impact it will have on us, and through us to future generations, it is reasonable to consider this our Environmental Genome (EG).
Our Environmental Genomes did not change significantly from Sophy’s until we invented civilizations. The agenda was simple. It was about survival in small, interdependent groups. Civilization changes the demands on adults, so it also changes how children are raised.
Children are the product of their environment. As tiny children, we used a very simple technique for learning, called Watch & Copy. We watched our parents, friends, family, teachers, preachers and television celebrities, examples in our Environmental Genome, and we copied their behaviors. We figured out what we could do, what we couldn’t do, and what we could probably get away with.
Then we made up our own rules and we then practiced the rules we made up until they became subconscious habits.
Obviously, we learn a lot of good things as young children, but at that time we are unable to defend ourselves from the errors being programmed into our brains by the people in our environment. Remember this though, they too are doing the best they can with the skills they learned from their Environmental Genomes.
By the time our brain has developed the capacity to recognize the errors, the errors have already also become habits and we don’t even question them, we just accept them as facts.
What we know about the world, our place in it, our limitations in it, and expectations of it, we learned before we were seven years of age from the people in our environmental Genome. As adults, we have become a composite of who those people were.
Neuroscience now can explain why Saint Francis Xavier’s famous quote is true. He said, “give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.”
Even if we did question the errors, we have no idea how to change them. By seventeen, we cannot even consciously access the part of our brain we used as a child because the adult brain uses a very different method of thinking. But, the skills learned in the first one thousand days still dictate how we think.
The only viable way to change this cycle is to approach life from a radically different perspective. We must understand who we are now is the result of a set of skills we learned as tiny children.
I have always rebelled at the notion we must understand the past to be able to move toward the future. In this case, however, we need to see how early childhood experiences shaped who we are today, so the benefits gained from learning how to create a safe and nurturing environment will be obvious.
Very few of us develop the insight to consider and evaluate the correctness of what was done to us in those early years because the connections to those memories is physically severed in our brains by sixteen to seventeen years of age. (See Synaptic Pruning)
Even fewer understand and figure out how to overcome the mistakes that were made. We cannot change what we think has happened to us. In reality, we cannot even remember what actually happened to us. So, we need to give up focusing on the past.
What we should focus on instead, is what we can do differently, starting right now, to transform our lives, but did not know how.
We need to embrace the facts, not the fantasy of our identity. We are the expression of skills we learned as tiny children. We can re-learn, upgrade, practice, and master those skills as adults. In doing so, we will not only repair much of the inadvertent damage done to us, so our lives are significantly better, we can begin to nurture our children in ways that will allow them to realize more and more of the amazing potential humans have.
Transforming our own lives will automatically create a very different Environmental Genome in which our children will develop.
Our children will be the ultimate beneficiary of our personal transformation because they will be raised in a much more emotionally stable and peaceful Environmental Genome.
When we significantly change the environment in which they develop, they will have the tools to figure out how to avoid repeating the same mistakes that have ruined countless lives and destroyed every civilization for the last 10 thousand years.
They will have the capacity, and the ability to realize Sophy’s Promise.
Next: How we learned, how we learn, and how we can change.
© 2017 Douglas McKee