Patterico's Pontifications


Have You Always Been Who You Are Today?

Filed under: General — Dana @ 2:28 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Asking the questions that most of us have thought about:

I have few memories of being four—a fact I find disconcerting now that I’m the father of a four-year-old. My son and I have great times together; lately, we’ve been building Lego versions of familiar places (the coffee shop, the bathroom) and perfecting the “flipperoo,” a move in which I hold his hands while he somersaults backward from my shoulders to the ground. But how much of our joyous life will he remember? What I recall from when I was four are the red-painted nails of a mean babysitter; the brushed-silver stereo in my parents’ apartment; a particular orange-carpeted hallway; some houseplants in the sun; and a glimpse of my father’s face, perhaps smuggled into memory from a photograph. These disconnected images don’t knit together into a picture of a life. They also fail to illuminate any inner reality. I have no memories of my own feelings, thoughts, or personality; I’m told that I was a cheerful, talkative child given to long dinner-table speeches, but don’t remember being so. My son, who is happy and voluble, is so much fun to be around that I sometimes mourn, on his behalf, his future inability to remember himself.

If we could see our childish selves more clearly, we might have a better sense of the course and the character of our lives. Are we the same people at four that we will be at twenty-four, forty-four, or seventy-four? Or will we change substantially through time? Is the fix already in, or will our stories have surprising twists and turns?

Read the whole thing as the author presents arguments from a number of researchers and writers who look at whether we are who we have always been who we are or is it through life’s journeys that we become who we are today. Dividers or continuers…

And I appreciated this poem titled The Ideal by James Fenton. It feels like a sigh of relief to me:

A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.

This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard.

Read the whole thing.


36 Responses to “Have You Always Been Who You Are Today?”

  1. Hello.

    Dana (1225fc)

  2. I have always been Non ignorant southern white trash. I do keep getting more non ignorant. Maybe its the native american side of me.

    asset (9eff2a)

  3. This is interesting, Dana. I don’t have many childhood memories, but I was so very unhappy. I too have snippets of memories.

    What is interesting to me is reconnecting with a friend I had lost touch with since the fourth grade, who remembers things I said and did that I do not remember. Fortunately, they are good things.

    It’s important to savor every moment. Memento mori, as the Stoics say.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  4. Connected with this…

    My first serious girlfriend in high school and I had quite a dramatic breakup. I had not heard from her, of course, for many decades.

    She recently reached out to me…to apologize for how she acted all those years ago!

    We were children. And for every bad thing she did, so did I.

    It was fun catching up with her, hearing about her grandchildren, and the ups and downs of her life.

    I haven’t heard from her since. Maybe trying to amends in general? Trust me, a high school breakup is not worth worrying over, but she did.

    So clearly that was remembered in great detail. But it should not have bothered her so.

    We should cultivate and center good and kind memories.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  5. Simon Jester,

    I also have limited memories of childhood. Perhaps it just comes with unhappy families. Maybe the unhappiness, although not yet able to define or explain but children instinctively absorb unhappiness, I think, and that may cause us to unknowingly narrow our gaze and memory. I don’t know. What’s interesting to me is that my male sibling feels that our childhood was incredible, with opportunities to do everything from scuba diving, sailing, camping, backpacking, traveling etc. However, the girls in the family – as adults – disagree with his assessment because we are focused more on the massive implosion that occurred when the parents divorced. The damage/hurt is what remains prominent, not the happiness at having so many adventures.

    And whether the ex-girlfriend made amends for her sake or yours or both, I think it’s a lovely gesture and I hope it brought any closure you may have needed. Sometimes we say we’re over it, but at those moments when they reach out, it may be the final closure of skin that was needed. That she reached out to you to apologize for how she treated you was admirable.

    Dana (1225fc)

  6. I wish her and her family well. It really was not big deal in the cosmic scheme of things, but she felt it was.

    If nothing else, it was a good reminder of how differently things can be perceived by others.

    I’m sorry about your own experiences, Dana.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  7. Dana,

    So true, sorry you went through that.

    EPWJ (650a62)

  8. Do you think your unhappiness was due to your environment, Simon? Or do you subscribe to the view that some individuals are predisposed to unhappiness, or maybe sadness or melancholia, even as children?

    Dana (1225fc)

  9. Well, my life took a big turn on April Fool’s Day, 1988.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  10. Childhood memories:

    My mother was the very first helicopter parent. Despite living in a safe community, I was not allowed to go out and play in the neighborhood until I was four. On that wonderful day, out I went. FREEDOM!

    Apparently my 3yo brother threw a daylong fit, so the next day he got to go out, too. And it was my job to watch him. Sic transit libertas.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  11. Dana, I know we don’t know one another in real life. But I have always always always been an Outsider to others. My parents didn’t know what to do. But I am stubborn, and got through college, graduate school, biotech, and finally a tenured professor. I just don’t give up.

    But yeah, I am morose by nature. My Irish ancestry? This scene from “Justified” really resonated with me, and my wonderful wife agrees:

    Okay, I am not as pretty as Tim Olyphant.

    Best wishes.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  12. It’s surprising what fragments you remember… My earliest childhood memory is of a space mobile hanging over the crib, two wooden, grenadier soldiers about 18 inches tall on the shelf and a Felix The Cat clock which sat on the dresser- it’s eyes moving back and forth with each tick-tock and glowed at night as did the clock face. I still have the two wooden grenadier soldiers. Felix and his ‘magic bag’ was favorite TV cartoon as well and the cat clock has been re-produced and was popular in the 1980s. But the mobile is most vivid- I could draw it today and have searched for a replica/copy of it for decades. It was of a set of missiles from that era- 1950s– but it is the paper clouds that were part of the mobile artwork that are most memorable. Puffy, white cumulus clouds edged in sky blue. Vividly recall standing in the front yard w/t folks, gazing up at a bright, silver satellite passing over toward the western sky at dusk as well– it was Echo 1. The list is endless and the fragments all mental treasures. Nothing but good childhood memories.

    DCSCA (961120)

  13. As far as a person’s character is concerned, I think it was predestined at Creation. As far as how the circumstances of his life shape him, I think people’s lives are like rivulets of water flowing downhill. Some run straight, some meander, some scatter and evaporate, some are absorbed into the ground, some join others to make rivers that flow into the sea … you get the picture.

    They say “if only the young knew, if only the old could”. It doesn’t mean anything. Even if the young knew, their character and the circumstances of their lives would still keep them on the same course.

    So, yes, I think I have always been the same person in my life, just at different points along my course, accumulating more or less flotsam and detritus at different times and, similarly, a faster or slower flow.

    nk (a99944)

  14. The type of memories he describes are from when I was two, for me.

    I have fairly strong memories from when I was 4. We were living on a military base in very northern Maine and the base housing was all rows of town houses with a huge grassy space on one side and a smaller grassy space between the houses and the rows of garages on the other (there was no off base housing. It was a tiny town and many potato farms). There were a bunch of under 7s in our set of row houses and we all ran around in a pack with the main rule being “don’t cross the street”. I have memories of my parents decorating a new room for me when I was 3.5 and my brother was on his way, so they needed the room closest to them for him. I remember learning to skate and cross country ski with my parents and my brother in a backpack. I remember a rather harrowing trip across snow drifts to get to the church to call for help when my dad took my mom’s car because his was too low on gas and we ran out of gas on the way to the gas station (less than 2 miles away) and my mother was carrying my baby brother, so I had to to make it through myself (she agrees it was harrowing, so it wasn’t just my tiny person perception). I remember that when the (10 feet of) snow melted, all the, er, detritus, from dogs going outside in the winter used to clog the drain and create a very foul cesspool in the back and my dad would put on his fishing waders and take a rake and clean it out. And I remember knowing better than to get near it which my brother did…not. I don’t think you are supposed to clorox babies, but I suppose my mother thought that was better than the alternative. (no she didn’t actually clorox my brother, but pretty darn near). I remember when they put in new linoleum kitchen tiles, covering up the old ones (adult me thinks probably asbestos). I remember being the flower girl in my uncle’s wedding. I remember being sad when my great-grandfather died, and mad because he didn’t wait a couple of month so that he would be there when we visited. I remember playing in my grandparents basement at my brother’s baptism, the only other child in my generation at that point and what was really an adult party upstairs, and my mother’s youngest cousin, only 4 years older than I, coming to play with me and rescue me from loneliness (I told this story to her youngest child at my grandmother’s wake and he looked like he couldn’t even imagine his mother as a little girl). I remember being stuffed into a couple of different snow suits (not all at the same time) and how painfully cold it could be. I remember being wretchedly disappointed when my friends got to go to kindergarten and I didn’t because I was just a little too young.

    Lots of small person memories. So don’t despair, oh author of the article, he may remember too.

    Nic (896fdf)

  15. @nk@13 I don’t think character and personality are the same. You can have two people with similar personalities who may have very different characters. Core personality is, I think, there from birth, but certain aspects might be reinforced or repressed by experiences with the world. I think character is mostly learned, taught by parents, society, education, sports, and one’s life experiences.

    Nic (896fdf)

  16. I think personality is three mirrors: The one in which you see yourself; the one in which the world sees you; and one more in which you see how the world sees you.

    I think character is the water flowing down the stream, to continue my earlier metaphor. Is it clear, healthful, free of algae and polliwogs, plentiful, able to flow over the streambed and stay within the banks?

    nk (f8cfc0)

  17. That’s an interesting metaphor. I would think, though, that in your metaphor the person standing in front of the mirrors would be the the core personality and each of the mirrors is just a viewpoint of it.

    Nic (896fdf)

  18. “Do you think your unhappiness was due to your environment, Simon? Or do you subscribe to the view that some individuals are predisposed to unhappiness, or maybe sadness or melancholia, even as children?”

    I think children absorb and process environment differently because of dispositions. Negative environment + negative dispostion is one formulation with the wild card being the nk model of character. Negative environment + negative disposition + deep sense of character yields a person who can overcome the two negatives..

    My personal view of life has been from a deeply introverted place. I described it once as the view you’d have if your eyes were 100 yards deeper back into your head. I think I was born susceptible/sensitive to psychological negativity (physical negativity was different. My response was to control/trigger it ASAP and get on with it). My body heals faster than my brain

    steveg (812a53)

  19. I agree that character and personality are not the same thing. We are born with our personalities already infused in us, and character is developed along the way. Depending on the kind of family structure and training we have, we either develop strong character via lots of time spent on us and positive input from the adults in our lives, or weak character if those adults don’t have a solid grasp on it themselves. I think once the pattern is established, it’s very difficult to change. Not impossible though. I think too that the elements of our personalities can debut at different times in our lives as we find ourselves in a previously unknown set of circumstances. People can draw out of us what we didn’t know was in us. Marriage is often like that when it’s good: a husband or wife can bring to light a part of your personality that you hadn’t really known was there.

    Dana (1225fc)

  20. Kevin M: April Fools Day 1988??

    Thanks, EPJW.

    Love your memories, DCSCA and nic.

    Steveg, it’s amazing that you can describe so fully how you “operate”. Also, I would say this is sort of close to how I am: “My personal view of life has been from a deeply introverted place. I described it once as the view you’d have if your eyes were 100 yards deeper back into your head.”

    Dana (1225fc)

  21. From just reading the comments, conservatives here had unhappy childhoods. Is that what made you conservative?

    asset (f0dfa1)

  22. I would think, though, that in your metaphor the person standing in front of the mirrors would be the the core personality and each of the mirrors is just a viewpoint of it.

    People are a social species. The third mirror, our social self, the way we perceive how people perceive us, is the most influential component of our personality.

    But we are at odds on our definitions. I think character is innate. Pure nature, no nurture, except as a receptor for nurture. We are what we are, a bad seed or a good seed, a fig, a grape, a thorn or a thistle.

    To put it another way, maybe a person is messed up because mommy did not give him enough hugs when he was little, but it was his character that made him need the hugs in the first place.

    nk (01c05a)

  23. Have I always been who I am today? Well:

    Yes. I am still the person the Lord created, made in his image, a soul called forth from the void, endowed with free will; loved unconditionally and having been purchased at great cost by Christ’s Passion, death and Resurrection – He,the innocent, standing in the place of the guilty, so that He may have mercy on all in perfect justice.

    No. Exercising my will, I sometimes choose to act contrary to Lord’s will in seeking my own selfish desires, closed to loving my neighbor as myself. Sometimes even throwing away the sanctifying grace that is endlessly and lovingly lavished upon me, I rebel at what is good and, instead, choose an easy and comfortable life centered on the favor of public opinion and the esteem of men.

    Sin-sick and full of sorrow, like the prodigal son, I return to the Lord with a humble and contrite heart – metanoia. This never-ending battle continues to change me as often as I change course; away, and then back to the Lord.

    Anyone who has been in love knows about joy and sorrow, how much more intense the love of G*D?

    felipe (484255)


    EPWJ (650a62)

  25. My oldest son started preschool at 3. His teachers had been teaching preschool for 20+ years and our town was small enough that they kept in touch with their students into adulthood.

    They told me that one’s lifelong personality and character were evident at 3 years old. I was skeptical but it made me pay attention to the children in his preschool and who they became as adults.

    The teachers were right. You can tell who someone will be as an adult when they are 3.

    DRJ (efb4c2)

  26. I am very conservative, asset, and I had a happy, stable childhood.

    DRJ (efb4c2)

  27. Every few months, I have breakfast with one or two of my best friends from high school (Class of ’79), and we laugh because we all noticed that we’re still pretty much the same guys, just with more life experience and less energy and more dings in the fender. The repartee has little changed, and it’s like we’re BSing at a college party of something.

    Paul Montagu (1888f5)

  28. Thank you, EPWJ.

    Paul, you prolly remember seeing this, then.

    felipe (484255)

  29. I remember seeing Ed Sullivan in color, felipe.
    I had to fight with my dad because he wanted to see Lawrence Welk.

    Paul Montagu (1888f5)

  30. April Fools Day 1988??

    My first day not drinking.

    Kevin M (eeb9e9)

  31. @30. A ‘childhood memory’ ??? Are you French? 😉

    DCSCA (4236e5)

  32. Conservatives and liberals generally think differently,
    but I believe culture and environment can influence how radical or ideological that manifests and how “political” one acts. I think defining oneself sometimes artificially stifles perspective and creativity….and maybe, at times, joy. Habit is not always destiny…and sometimes you just need to jump into new habits.

    I think my own personality type is probably not one that thinks much about “have I changed” and what to make of it. I hope to always be a little bit better and for sure laugh more. However, I do occasionally ponder and chuckle about what tattoo I might have gotten at various stages of my life and how much money I would have had to later spend to either modify it or remove it. So that probably makes me cautious….and always planning ahead. Hopefully a little wiser….and more patient…except at those 4-way stops…..go already! I’m an interesting blend of my parents….with my own special sauce thrown in that I can’t blame either for.

    AJ_Liberty (5f05c3)

  33. AJ_Liberty,

    I have repeatedly thanked God that tattoos were not at all a thing in my youth. I’d probably still be trying to have them lasered off. And it certainly wouldn’t have been any sense of caution or looking ahead to life after rebellion that would have kept me from getting inked. I was simply fortunate that it was years out from being a trend. At that time, only sailors who went to The Pike got them.

    This is funny, because as an adult, I am very cautious, very private, and will avoid taking risks whenever possible. We grow up and sometimes it’s hard to recognize who we once were. So, yes, our personalities are already baked-in from the get-go, but I think that external events impact us too. Maybe not change our personalities, per se, but certainly affect how we react.

    Dana (1225fc)

  34. If you want to keep old items, you are a continuer.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  35. Thank you for that link, AJ. It is very interesting and informative.

    I have been thinking about why people believe what they believe. I am not focusing on nature vs nuture, although I think both matter. I am thinkkng about the power of repetition in learning and forming habits.

    We get bombarded by repetitive information, especially if we only read/listen to the same things over and over. That teaches us to believe something whether it is true or not, just like in grade school. The availability of constant online news and opinion in our busineses, homes, cars, and even in our hands is constant repetition. We cant escape learning its message unless we make the choice to hear other messages.

    DRJ (019b11)

  36. And since repetiotion creates habits, that makes us resistent to other messages. That is why we need to choose to be open to other messages.

    DRJ (019b11)

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