What is it that makes us into the people we turn out to be? It’s the eternal question.
Is it all down to the particular cocktail of genes we inherit, half of them from our mother and the other half from our father? Scientists tell us that many character traits are genetic and that, amazingly, the building blocks of personality are laid down very early on whilst still a foetus in the womb, floating in the dark, insulated from the joys and sorrows of the world.
On the other hand, sociologists maintain that the essential person we grow up to become is largely a result of childhood and environmental influences. In other words, it’s the famous nature (genetics)-versus-nurture (outside influences in formative years) debate.
Or is the programming of our character a bit of each: part nature, part nurture?
Take my brother Derek and I. Not being monozygotic (identical) or indeed any other sort of twins, we have little in common genetically, apart from inheriting our genes from the same parents. And certainly, in many ways we are quite different in character. I’m a restless, grass-always-greener-elsewhere sort of soul, always wanting to be active, either mentally or physically. I’m terrible at relaxing.
Whereas Derek seems to find inactivity easy and is seemingly content with a laid-back, relatively un-busy, uneventful life. We are chalk and proverbial cheese. We are both retired now, and Derek does the sort of things that retirees do: he plays leisurely bowls and golf, whilst I act as if I’m still at work and still try, even at this late stage in life to ‘achieve’.
This year, at the cost of many aching backs, I made an elaborate paved patio for my garden, having previously completely de-modernised and restored my Welsh cottage because I didn’t like it the way it was. And during the evenings and the short winter days I write books – not very successfully in conventional terms, but it gives me a lot of satisfaction and helps keep the grey matter stimulated. I absolutely never watch daytime TV.
And yet, in some ways Derek and I are quite similar, especially in outlook. Certainly, as far as political outlook goes, we both trend decidedly leftwards. We are both republicans (in the European sense, not the American). In conversation when putting the world to rights, we more often agree than disagree. So where does this unity of outlook and attitude come from? I can only suppose our common upbringing and shared influences, although I left the parental nest aged twenty in search of greener pastures whilst Derek was still living at home in his early thirties. So any similarity we have could presumably be ascribed to influences in our formative years.
I sometimes wonder how things might have been if we’d been identical twins. Would we have ended up essentially two identical incarnations of the single person we should have been, had the original, single, fertilised egg we began as not decided for some inexplicable reason to divide? It’s a very difficult concept to get your head around: being descendents (as it were) of the same zygote, the same potential human being, and yet in every sense be two distinct people with entirely separate consciousnesses (as indeed conjoined but unseparatable twins are).
Just how alike, or different, deep down, would we have been?
Which brings me around to mentioning my novel The One of Us, which I’ve republished on Amazon. It deals with the nature-versus-nurture question, with identical twin boys as the protagonists, who in the interests of spinning an absorbing (I hope!) yarn are adopted and brought up separately until finally, in adulthood, being reunited in an unusual and dramatic way. How similar or dissimilar do they turn out? Read to find out! You can get the book entirely free this coming long weekend beginning October 24.
For more information view it on Amazon here.