You got that habit from your father. You take after your mother. Your grandma used to say that to me. Most of us grew up hearing similar observations or accusations, depending on whether the attribute was positive or negative, desirable or undesirable, acceptable or unacceptable.

There’s no question about the fact that physical attributes are genetic in nature. They can range from facial structure to height and weight, to right and left-handedness.

Beyond that, I have always wondered how much of our behavior is hereditary and how much is learned, either academically or by observation. Being a geneticist or other flavor of scientist might help. In lieu of that, I continue to think about what I acquired from my parents and what I have dispatched to my children.

The question that I ask after that one is how dominant is learned behavior over that which is genetically transmitted. If your dad was homicidal, does that mean that you’re predisposed to killing people? We can hope not.

Some of the problems with genetic transmission of characteristics are obvious. They can be excuses, explanations or excessive, as the situation dictates.

For my part, I’ll stop with the physical similarities. Beyond that, we are entirely responsible for that which we learn and teach. To make this position clearer, that learned and taught behavior is entirely based on actions. If I seek to teach kindness and generosity, I must behave accordingly. If I am slow to anger and quick to discuss, those whom I influence will have no obstacles to emulating that behavior.

We are as we behave, not what we acquired from Uncle Hector or Grandma Agnes. To succeed as role models – parents, teachers or others – we can credit our family members for eye and hair colors. If we’re fortunate, we also learned basic human values. Most of the rest is up to us. Shalom.

One thought on “Legacies

  1. Having been a product of a ‘broken’ home and 4 sets of foster parents, I don’t really know what characteristics, other than physical, I inherited from my birth parents. I’m convinced that mental illness is inherited, and try not to blame ‘life’ on that. My father did not set a good example so I’d rather not claim any characteristics from him, and I’m happy to claim being a strong woman from my mother. Not that this means anything to anyone except me. I believe, same as you, that people are responsible for their own actions, once they leave the nest, so to speak. Shalom to you, and happy birthday, America.


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