Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

How Do We Come to Be Who We Are?

Recently, a dear friend and I were wondering how people come to be the kinds of people they are. How is it that some are so astoundingly good and good for everyone around them, while others seem to be hollow or even noxious? Why do some contribute massively to the courage and beauty of human society while others sow distrust, stain, and selfishness? Where do we get our personalities, not to mention our ambitions?

Without delving into psychological theories, I think it’s helpful for each of us to peer at our greatest influences. We begin, of course, with our DNA—what our bodies bring to the party before we’re born. When I watch reality TV series tying people to their ancient or recent family history, I’m fascinated to see certain threads of behavior as well as distinctive physical features, woven throughout time. And sometimes I can’t discern any similarities between past and present at all. Do the commonalities lie buried much deeper or are some of us originals? Are you like your ancestors?

Biological parents will tell you even babies demonstrate personality as well as particular preferences and talents. Mom said I hated to cry. (I still do.) I attended a writing workshop in which one of the salient questions was how early did you begin walking? (I don’t know.) Thereafter in human development an explosive blending of influences and personal choices becomes our epigenetics.

I suppose I was always a people-pleaser who craved affection, but one who was determined to shine brightly. I wanted to be an individual like the heroines in my books. The person who influenced me most, I think, was my maternal grandmother. I knew her as a powerful woman who not only survived her husband’s untimely death and years of his bad choices, but also paid off his debts and seized control of the rest of her life. I suppose she was the wild child of her family, but she didn’t let her husband’s issues destroy her or persuade her to turn away from him. I remember the people who came to the funeral home to pay their respects after she died. The room was packed—not with those who came out of obligation, but with sincere mourners, people she had touched with her honesty and caring. I wondered how anyone could inspire so many to care. I wanted to do as well.

I think what I loved best about my grandmother was that she saw me—the real me, not just another grandchild. She was my champion but she didn’t pamper me. When I needed money for a car, she provided it—along with a payment book so I could calculate my payments plus interest. She never doubted I would pay her back and I didn’t let her down. She believed in me. By example, she taught me that it’s okay to be turned off by people who seem bizarre to me, but to give them a chance, anyway; sometimes the story has a surprise ending. My parents might have been better people than she was, but she was the one who encouraged me to fly.

(May you enjoy reading “My Real Grandmother and Sugar Cookies” on this blog.)

2 comments on “How Do We Come to Be Who We Are?

  1. Frances Sullivan
    May 13, 2018

    “… the one who encouraged me to fly.” We all need one of those when young, and especially if we are someone who is set apart from the pack. If my grandmother had lived longer she would have been disappointed in me, and yet, if she had lived longer her influence might have helped me make different choices. We’ll never know. 🙂 I’m curious why you write “My parents might have been better people than she was…”?

    • My parents believed they were better people–more correct. Their belief was based on teachings from their chosen religion.

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