We choose who to be, from one moment to the next. Our actions, words, silences and inactions define us. They express who we are. No matter what we imagine ourselves to be, or dream we could be, the truth of each of us lies, moment to moment, in every choice we make.
There’s a huge, ongoing debate in psychology about the degrees to which nature (genetic inheritance) and nurture (how we are brought up) affect us. From what I’ve seen, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal out there about the degree to which we are able to consciously choose who we are. The more I consider it, the more certain I feel that we actually have a lot of choice in this regard. Yes, our genetic inheritance will predispose us in certain ways. There’s some consensus that intelligence is inheritable, but it also looks like that only plays a part if the environment you grow up in isn’t very rich. We learn a lot in growing up – about relationships, families, society, we learn what is expected of us. The odds are that we learn some unhelpful stuff in the mix, drawn from the fears and foibles of our immediate relatives. As Lady Midnight says in The Mistress and the Mouse, no one gets out of childhood entirely unscathed. I think it’s just part of being human.
We aren’t clockwork machines, we do not run along preset tracks. We are able to think and learn. Nature and nurture set us off with some tools and raw material, but it’s down to us as individuals to decide how we use them. We do not have to repeat the patterns and mistakes of our childhoods, our parents, our ancestral line. We are not doomed to play out some narrative coded into our DNA.
Over the years I’ve run into far too many people who act without thought, ascribe this to their ‘nature’ and consider it unassailable. This too, is a choice. You can view it as a choice to be spontaneous, in the moment and acting out your nature. You can also view it as being reactive, following habits and not really thinking about what you are doing. To me, the innate nature of a person that shines through when they act like this, is one of carelessness, both for those around them, and for their own well being. People who speak and act carelessly seldom do themselves any favours, and then follow through with a refusal to acknowledge there was anything untoward. What this gives you is a total absence of power.
Everything matters. Every so often some bright spark will tell me I take life too seriously. I think I take life about seriously enough – it is, to the best of my knowledge, the only one I’ve got, and I don’t intend to squander it. So for me, there is a second or two of thought before every word, every action, every decision to stay still. Sometimes more thought than others, granted, but I seldom find I’ve done something without knowing why. I don’t come home with impulse buys that make no sense to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever hurt someone by saying something I didn’t mean. (If you know me, and I have injured you with words at some point, this does not necessarily mean I meant to cause pain, only that the words were meant.)
It’s easy to go through life on autopilot, doing what you always do, acting from habit and ‘nature’ rather than from a basis of constantly choosing who and how you wish to be. To be Pagan, is to take responsibility for your life. To be a Druid is to seek to act honourably in every word and deed, not just the big, obvious stuff. We can choose, peace, honour, integrity and compassion moment to moment, or we can snap at someone because why should we walk round on eggshells all the time? If you shout at me, that entitles me to shout back because I’m angry, right? Or I can choose to control my anger and speak reasonably. It’s a choice. We are not just products of nature and nurture, we are also the consequence of our own, individual ability to choose.