Thursday, June 28, 2012

Environment and A Grand Plan

As I ponder my next alphabetical installment of "E", and pack my life away, I've been pondering the concept of environment. Not just my environment that is about to radically change. Not just the environment that houses species screaming toward extinction, not just the broken and bleeding  concept that keeps all of us alive, but our own personal environments too. In a conversation with a customer the other day, I shared my opinion that children are as much a by-product of their environment as they as they are by their genetics. I won't bore you with the whole conversation, but I was still mulling it over long after she left the store.

I am comfortable with the thought that children are shaped by their environment. Both the larger one and the one in which they're raised. I see evidence of this every day in our three sons. One is very much like his father, his mannerisms, his reaction to stress and even how he chews his nails! I find this interesting because this son spends no time with his father, only seeing him for about a half hour perhaps once a year when his father takes the time. This son has not had steady exposure to his father since he was four, and he's now sixteen (ack!) So did his formative years install all those similar personality traits, or are they genetic? Was there a tradeoff  between babbling when stressed and a  receding hairline? (If there was, son should be glad he got my hair!)
The youngest son is an interesting mixture of me, which can be seen in build, facial features and hair, and his eldest brother. The step-brother, in which there is no DNA shared. To look at our youngest is to see our eldest. In personality, in mannerisms, reaction to stress, joy and happiness, pain and  uncomfortable situations. In this example, I point to one's environment shaping the person. In our case, this has turned out to be a good thing.
But what about those people that go on to better themselves above their "lot in life", as it were? The children that go on to be astrophysicists from a farming background?  The politicians of old who went on to become presidents that were born to extremely poor parents? These people exceeded their environments while carrying their genetics with them. What makes these people tick? Do they have more determination than the rest of us? Are their goals clearer to them? Are they harder workers? I've often wondered what the difference was between myself and the famous actress who is only 9 months older than me. Besides the fact that she hails from a small-ish island. Her parents were no more rich than mine. She too was once a single mum. But her name is a household name, her face instantly recognizable, her voice too. I'm not complaining, merely pointing out that she and I are not that dis-similar.

Is there some grand plan somewhere that determines these things? Without getting too far into matters of faith, I believe we each have a role to play that helps shape the bigger picture, even if we don't know it at the time. Did Abraham Lincoln's mother know she would give birth to one of history's most influential and doomed figures? Likely not. All we can do is the best we can and hope it all turns out for the best.

But at the same time, we also have to keep in mind how the bigger environment fits into our own environments. The big one, the one that sees the loss of millions of trees each year, the one that is cracked and bleeding species, that one needs our help. We've messed it up in the race for convenience, for less work and for comfort. Our "normal" has changed, and it's our own faults. All of us, for the last  three generations. After WW2, the people of North America enjoyed a glut of cheap, easy and time-saving devices. Even was I was a child, we fluctuated between comfort and hard scrabble. I remember sunday drives that went nowhere, but they were fun. We'd have breakfast, pick a direction and drive till the parents decided it was time to go home. Or we would drive to see the Grandparents, or we would drive to see the countryside and count horses. Even then I thought it was fun, and I dearly wish I could do the same for my own children now. Having no vehicle and stupid-high fuel prices are two big reasons why I can't pass on that tradition. I remember camping too, and in time, this one tradition I can pass on.  Although in a different way. I remember sleeping in a tipi, I remember sleeping under a van at a rodeo and waking up to the smell of bacon cooking somewhere. I remember the pop-up tent trailer. I remember the old VW van with hammocks for my brother and I. I remember the tent that seemed  to need 5 people to put up with the crinkly floor. But then, camping season was clearly delineated. Spring, summer, fall and winter had distinguishing earmarks and one did not bleed over into the other. These days, we have mild weeks in March that  drives some people to plant weeks too early, summers that bring frost to kill apple blossoms and wipe out 85% of a province's apple farmers, and sometimes we seem to miss winter's bite entirely. Gone are the cold snaps  and 10 feet high snowbanks from my childhood. Our new normal is not normal at all.

Parents abandoning their babies in the middle of winter on concrete stairways, polar bears unable to find ice-floes to rest on, warm winters, normal people turning into face-eating zombie druggies, fuel prices insanely prohibitive, food that has next to no nutritional value, our own leaders making backroom deals to fatten their pockets at the expense of their neighbors, hurricanes in January wildfires that rage and decimate everything in their path, taxes that will eventually eliminate the former middle-class into poverty, an increasing number of people that cannot afford what I took for granted as a child ... this is our new normal, and it sucks. This is not what our children deserve. We can do better than this, as parents, as people and as stewards of the planet that's been loaned to us.

Time to get off our asses and start correcting our mistakes.