Many a time, elders remark that a child displays behavior and characteristics that are similar to those of their parents or siblings. We often hear elders saying, “He is a drunkard just like his father”, or, “she is well mannered like her late sister”.
While we learnt at school that we inherit genes from our parents or siblings, it is still unknown if behavior, like genes can also be inherited.
I want to believe that learned behavior is a result of life’s experiences. Our behavior is influenced by what we observe in society and how we are brought up.
Behavior is also a matter of choice. There are many examples of individuals who were brought up in dysfunctional homesteads, but grew up to become responsible citizens. For example, many people choose not to take alcohol because they had fits hand experience of the dangers of alcohol abuse in their families.
Why then does society liken a child’s behavior top that of his/her parents or the people who brought him/her up? Sometimes we even go to the extent of likening a child’s behavior or attributes to a long dead relative, just to make a connection. Is this a way of justifying a child’s negatives, or is behavior in fact hereditary?
Unlike learned behavior, physical traits like complexion, hair or eye color and gait are easier to comprehend and understand as being inherited, especially since there is a clear genetic explanation.
People do not choose the natural color of their hair or eyes. Inherited physical traits cannot change permanently through conditioning or some other method. Physical traits are part of the genetic components of a human being, and they can explain why his /her mother’s eye or grandfather’s birthmark.
Every person is characterized by a combination of traits. Some traits are easy to link to genetics, while others are obviously a result of learned behavior.
Phrases like, “it runs in the family” are unfounded. Why is it that we can easily explain a person’s divorce by saying that their parents also divorced in the past?
Sunday Standard interviewed some people about the old saying. Punikie Radipotsane, a fourth year UB student dismisses the relationship of behavior and heredity.
“Judging a child by the actions of their parents can be detrimental to their growth. Such a child might not make an effort to improve their state because they are resigned to the fact that they are as good or as bad as the parents” said Radipotsane.
Whilst some believe that those were things of the past, every individual comes to be who they are because of whom they shape themselves into, the greatest gift that God gave mankind is the ability to make choices.