DNA, Me, and We

Sense of self and what it means differs depending on who you ask and what experiences they have had in their life to shape them. I feel like when I was in High school, I had a very strong sense of self, I was very motivated and involved in school, and in the community which I resided in, and had a very good sense of how the world works. Now that I am older however, I would say that since coming to college my sense of self in the world has changed dramatically. I feel that these first few years of independence that come from being in college really show you how little you know about the world and what your place in it is.

One example of this is in the way I view ideologies I have always been a person who likes to think about and see thinks through a western world lense, straightforward, logical, empirical, and based in science. There has always been something comforting to me about knowing the “right” answers, what is true and what is false. As I have grown up and have been studying in the College of Science though I see that things aren't always this simple as i'd like them to be and there are a lot of things that we don’t know about yet and that are still up for debate.

This switch in thinking also started around the same time that I started practicing yoga and learning more about more eastern philosophies. This i feel like has not only helped me see things through another lens but also help me to explore myself as a big part of the yoga practice is meditation and self exploration. Knowing how the way that I see the world has been changing so rapidly, when I started this essay I wanted to look at two different definitions of self. The psychology definition that I was able to find for a sense of self was, “The way a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs, and purposes in the world” (1). On the other hand the sense of self in the yoga philosophy, or seer as it is called, is almost the opposite. The seer is described in the Yoga Sutra as the unchanging part of you, your inner voice that is not relative to the outside world (2). While these two definitions definitely clash a bit I feel that it is important to have an understanding of both to better understand what things i feel have contributed to my own sense of self.

I think that your sense of self is a combination of these two. I believe that your sense of self starts with something similar to the seer, a basic starting point of who you are, this to me is similar to the genetic aspect of things. But from this, the sense of self changes and adapts throughout life depending on what you know and how you see your place in the world. Much like how you are always changing while living in a world that is always changing, so is your sense of self.

Just like how there is much debate on what one's sense of self is, there is no clear answer on what leads to its development. Some of the things that I think go into it include; your genetics, what traits run in your family and how the change you; your family history, where you descend from and why it matters to you, if it does at all; and your social upbringing, where you group and what the culture was like. In order to get a better understanding of my families history I decided to interview a few of my family members and see what I could learn about where I came from and the different traits that might run in my family. From this I’ve been able to see how my view differs from theirs and to better understand where my sense of self comes from.

The first person that I talked to was my grandmother on my mother’s side, Judith Chilcott. Her side of the family is, according to her, very nordic. She told me lots about how we have viking blood and what that means to her, “When I look back to that heritage I think of strong people who forged ahead and made new discoveries for the rest of the world” (3). From this I am able see some of my own beliefs about seeking the truth in the world and really trying to understand why things are the way that they are. She also told me that her her mother never really knew her father as he abandoned her family when she was very young. Because of this we really don’t have any information on our family history going back from there. This leads me to wonder about our heritage on this side. My grandma highly identifies with this Nordic background but I wonder what pieces of the puzzle are missing and if she would feel much different in how she identifies with her ancestors if she had more information. I feel that for myself, without having a full understanding of my history, it would be strange identifying with one branch, when there could be others that may influence how I could see things differently.

My grandma has also always been a very religious person and hearing about her upbringing and her family life really gave me some insight to that. Her parents were raised religiously, she was raised religiously, her kids were raised religiously, and my brother and I were also raised religiously. This brings me to another interesting divide between my family and I, although I was raised religiously much like the rest of my family, I have come to see that that is not something that I really feel strongly about anymore and I would say that I do not Identify with being religious. This is something that can feel a little strange as faith is fairly important to the majority of my family.

The only other person in my family who is not religious would be my mother's fiance, David, who has experienced multiple different religions, and from what I can tell, feels that life should be lived the way you want to live in whatever way will make you happy (4). I feel like even though I grew up religious, it makes more sense to me at this point in my life not to be. I think this is something that has rubbed off on me from David, being raised one way, in this example religion, may not necessarily end up being how you want to continue living once you begin your own life and learning from your own experiences in the world.

The next person who I interview was my Father, Ted Lewis (5). He told me about his family's history, and how we were mostly british.The majority of the insight that I got from this though, was that he blames them for his family's poor dental history, which makes me very glad that I take after my mother’s side when it comes to teeth. Another thing that he touched on that I identify with greatly was out love of traveling. I have always enjoyed exploring the world and seeing new places, and while I don’t think much of our genetics play into traits like this, it is definitely something that I got from my father who can't stay in one place for more than a year. He has told me much about how we had ancestors who would travel, from a family members who started the National Maritime Union, and were sailors, to even a pirate. While I can’t say exactly how these ancestors of mine affect me, I can say confidently that I have the same wonder lust that has inspired generations of Lewis’ before me.

When I look at my family I would say that the the person that I feel that I am the most similar to is my mother, Kellie Lewis (formerly Chilcott). When I interviewed her one of the first things that she told me was that she doesn't feel like she has been influenced by a lot of external factors in her life, apart from the obvious physical traits passed down in her genes she doesn't really feel that there was very much about her upbringing that shaped her to the person she is today. One think that she told me was, “I feel that I was born with common sense and that is the biggest thing that has shaped me and the decisions that I have made in my life” (6). This statement is very reflective of her as one of the most independent people I know. I feel very similarly to the way that she does, however I feel that I accept a lot more of the influences that have shaped me thought out my life. Common sense is a trait that is very subjective, and although I’m sure that there are some genes that can help influence it, I feel that it is also some thing learned from experiences (7). This trait that my mom refers to as common sense is also seen in her father, and probably goes back even further.

After interviewing these family members and hearing about our family history and ancestry I feel that my opinion on how my ancestors affects my sense of self hasn't changed much. Knowing that I am mostly from england and the nordic countries as well as a hand full of others to a lesser degree, really hasn't ever been something that I think about passed the superficial aspect of it. Furthermore I don't really think that if I found out I had ancestors from a place I wouldn't have expected, that it would change my sense of self much either. One way that this does impact me though is in wetting the appetite of my curiosity, I have always wanted to look into my ancestry and find out more definitively where I hale from. This as well as the content that we have learned in class has really convinced me to look deeper into having my DNA analyzed by one of the many companies that offer this service.

Another topic that was touched on by my interviews with my family members was that of alcoholism. Clumped together my immediate family would characterize alcoholism as an inability to stop drinking to the point where it negatively affects the rest of your life. Growing up my parents had always been social causal drinkers, but they knew how to do it in moderation and never to a point where it had a negative impact on their lives. They were very involved in the food and drink culture and were the kind of people that love to go out and try new things. I am also a foodie in a similar way and it's basically a hobby. Now knowing that alcoholism is something that affected my ancestors and some distant relatives seems, almost seems strange as it was never something that was a cause for worry from within my immediate family.

Alcoholism is something that is affected by both your environmental conditions your genes. Contrary to what many people think there is not just one gene or set of genes that will determine if you become an alcoholic or not. In reality there are many different genes throughout your genome that have many different effects on your body and some can lead someone to have a predisposition towards alcoholism. also the genetic component of alcoholism is only about fifty percent, the other fifty percent being the environment. It is common for stressful events to happen in that leads to some initial bad habits that involve alcohol. This , when combined with the genetic predispositions that can be passed down, is what often leads to someone becoming an alcoholic.

The fact that there have been alcoholics in my family shows that I could possibly have certain genes that would predispose me to an alcoholic lifestyle. Because of this I feel that some of the lessons that I learned about alcohol are even more important. In my upbringing I learned and saw moderation and responsibility when it came to alcohol, how to have it be something that you can enjoy with defining you. This affects my sense of self as it is something that I must stay aware of throughout my life, but between the lessons that I learned growing up and the predispositions that I may or may not have, I have only a positive outlook for the future.

Another thing that has had an affect on me and my sense of self was the social framework that I grew up with. Although I was born in southern California I really don’t consider myself a Californian. I have grown up pretty much my whole life in Central Oregon, since I was in kindergarden. Central Oregon is a beautiful and great place to grow up but can also be very limiting to self growth. There is an extreme lack of diversity in central oregon and and this can be really limiting to one's view of how the world works. According to the United States census bureau, the caucasian population of deschutes county accounts for nearly 95% of the entire population (9). When I got to college I was actually pretty blindsided by how different everyone's upbrings were as compared to mine. This really changed the way I saw myself relative to the rest of the word and has lead me to try to have a more open mind about people and has to further consider how much being brought up in different areas, cultures, and economic situations can impact one's opinions and ideals.

Another topic that contributes a lot to my sense of self is my sexual orientation. Central Oregon is a very conservative area and it took me until I was almost graduated from high school to start accepting the fact that I’m gay and to start coming out to people about it. As Central Oregon is really a very conservative area with a very small LGBT population, growing up there while trying to explore my own sexuallity was a difficult thing. This as well as as my interest in genetics has lead me to research homosexuallity a bit in terms of it heredity and evolutionary history. Although there is much evidence to show that homosexuallity is partly affected by our genetics, we still don’t have a straightforward answer on how it is caused (10).

In class we talked a lot about, gender, sex, and race, but sexually orientation was not mentioned much outside of the first unit where we studied eugenics. That unit was particularly interesting in the fact that less than one hundred years ago homosexual people were labeled as sexual deviants and there were laws based in eugenics that could have enforced upon them compulsory sterilization amongst other punishments for the way they were. I wish that there was more information available on how sexual orientation is affected by our genetics, and would love for this to become a talking point in this course as time goes on and there is more information and research available.

All in all my sense of self comes from many different things. From the genes passed down from my parents and their parents before them, to the environment that I grew up in. As I still lack exhaustive information on my families geographical origins, I still don't feel well informed enough to really include it as being something that helps define me and my sense of self. I am british and nordic but I don't think that I would feel much different if I found out tomorrow I was mostly Italian instead. I have different genes from different people in my family and to me that is one of the biggest factors in who I started out as in this world, but this does not necessarily define me. I also believe that my sense of self is really relative to how I see myself relative to the world around me and as learn and accept more about myself as well as continue to grow and experience different walks in life, I will continue to develop a better understanding of who I am and what traits I have that do and do not define me.


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