I got to thinking the other morning, after reading some of Natalie Goldberg’s “Wild Mind”, about how different we all are. And I got to thinking, actually it was more wondering, how that happens. How we get that way. That’s what I was wondering.
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Ring a bell? The sentiment expressed that there is some real degree of sameness among us. Within us. But really? Is that really the case? “We are all together” is the case. Can’t help it, we’re all stuck on the same planet. But beyond that?
Nature versus nurture. The age old question, is one more important than the other in determining who you are, who you become, why you become who you become, who I am, who I became, how I got to be – well – me? Nature, I guess genes and chromosomes and all that. Nurture, my parents sent me to bed with no dinner, my parents spanked me – or didn’t spank me – I grew up in a small town, near the ocean, racially mixed, filled with tourists. I grew up in a housing project in a large Midwestern city, racially mixed. I grew up in a housing project in South Boston, absolutely no racial mixing, or in a town north of Boston that had maybe three “black families” and all I knew about black people is what my parents and my friends told me, taught me. I had grandparents who loved me, always told me I was a gift, a bundle of joy, my grandparents were dead when I was born. I had a single mother who worked 14 hours a day, who always told me I was a blessing, a bundle of life, I had two parents living in an estate north of New York City who didn’t really tell me anything, excepting that money changes everything.
How did I get to be me? How did you get to be you? How is it that people I consider very close friends, some from all the way back to grade school, some I met in college, some I got sober with and got my life back with and shared secrets with – how is it that we can watch a news cast and have 180 degree differences on what that means for us, how it speaks to us, why it confirms yet again that things are the way they are, that things don’t change, that we get it. And after we watch the news we run over to the corner of the living room and grab our sign that says “always say hooray for our side” and rush out the front door and out into the streets, saying “See. Told ya.”
How does it get that way. Henry David Thoreau said that he talked about himself so much because he didn’t know any other subject as well, so keeping with that logic, I’ll talk about me. I grew up in a small town, that got a lot bigger with summer people, that was laced throughout with one after another beach community, that had sections of town primarily white and sections primarily black so when you mixed it up there were something like 30% black people and 70% white, and my parents were both card-carrying Republicans and somehow I turned into a way left of the Democratic party Yippie, Hippie-wannabe eventual drunk/addict then sober gypsy of sorts. Nurture? Nature? I don’t know. I can think of specific incidents in my life – very specific – that pushed me along in one direction in fairly dramatic ways, but would those same incidents have pushed someone else in exactly the opposite direction? I don’t know.
It just makes me wonder, like I said when I started this. How do people, including people that in a lot of ways have a lot of similarities in their upbringing and the life to which they are exposed, how do they grow into seeing with such different eyes? That when this newscast comes on I see it one way and someone else sees it exactly the opposite way. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my best friend Bob Zimmerman and his wife Anne in their house in El Cerrito, California many years ago and Bob asked me my opinion on the nature/nurture thing. I said I thought it was more about nurture, he said more about nature. He grew up in a lefty Jewish household in New York City, I grew up in a righty Protestant household just this side of Cape Cod, in left-leaning Massachusetts. Bob’s son, Gabe, is in college in Iowa now, a free spirit of sorts, an actor, a poet. My son Cameron is an enlisted man in the United State Army, married with children and stationed in Texas now, a free spirit of sorts, but decidedly to the right of his Dad in his outlook on life and its politics.
Nature? Nurture? I don’t know. “We are all together.” – Yes. “I am he as you are he as you are me.” – Nah, not so sure about that one. I don’t know. The “always say hooray for our side” song also says “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” Is everybody wrong? Am I wrong? Are my friends who see the world very differently from me – and they are friends I love – are they wrong?
How did we get this way? I don’t know. I’ve got a story and so does everybody else. Does that mean I should just say whatever and not ever do anything about anything? About how I feel about things? No. No way. And I know that is just as true for my see-things-the-opposite-way friends too. Earth, Wind, and Fire sings “Child is born with a heart of gold, way of the world.” How far back do we go in our little lives til we all see things the same? Ever?
Genes and chromosomes and TV, oh my.
I’m still sitting on a cornflake.