For the situations and opportunities we find ourselves in each day, we owe a lot to our upbringing. For our upbringing, we owe it to our parents, our family, and the friends we were lucky to have and might still have. The environment we find ourselves in directly impacts where we end up. The simple things, the big things… they all matter! If you believe in destiny, all of the attributes of your life matter in determining that destiny. If you are not a believer in destiny, the same is true in determining where our life goes and where we end up. So, what if there was a way this could all be quantified? What if there was a way each choice that we make, or as a child is made for us, could be quantified in determining where life takes us and the opportunities that are out there for us? I think there is a way, and it is something I intend on analyzing in my years ahead.
Consider case studies of two different individuals. These individuals had different upbringings and experiences. The first individual, growing up in a low-income household but with both parent’s active in ensuring success, attended an inner-city high school and took the city bus to get there. Each day the individual sat across from people who were different from them, who came from different places. Some days there would be a homeless person asleep in the back corner of the bus, and other days a fight would break out between middle-aged folks. This individual experienced a lot simply because they took transit to school, so how did these experiences effect their outlook on life and their dreams for the future? Did these experiences make this individual feel more or less compassionate towards others? Where did they end up a decade after high school?
The second individual also attended an inner-city high school, but their parents were middle-class and were able to drive the student to school on their way to work. This individual did not have the experience of interacting with a diverse group of people, only their parent and sometimes another friend that needed a ride. The interactions with the surrounding environment came more from viewing and what they saw on the way to school. They may have even seen some neighborhoods more run-down than others, and yet still not able to recognize their own privilege. Did this lack of experience with others and lack of independence effect their outlook on life and their dreams for the future? Did these experiences make this individual feel more or less compassionate towards others? Where did they end up a decade after high school?
The attributes that separate these two individuals are simple. Both with active, caring parents, but one in a low-income household and the other in a middle-income household. The first individual takes the city bus to school independently of parents and the other is driven to school. Regardless of anything else about these individuals, it is curious to consider how the simple choices of commute to high-school could affect how they view the world, how they view others, and even where they end up going in life? When you consider that these choices are generally made by our parents, our upbringing, and determined by our surrounding environment, it is easy to realize that the little choices do matter. There are biases created within us from day one without even realizing it. And these biases are why we should not jump to conclusions about someone if they are on the other side of the aisle of us in terms of their views, because really, it probably isn’t even their fault in the first place. We think in two realms, slow and fast, and most of us will come to the sensible determination when we think slow, but when we are thinking fast is when things can become murky. It is the environment. It is based on studies that show that only 40% of our personality is determined by our genetics and the rest is built upon our environment.
Here is an example to consider… Welfare. Consider the views of welfare and their relationship to the belief that America is a free country of immense opportunity… There are those that did not grow up with any obvious privilege that have worked their asses off to make a better life for themselves and their families. And there are some people who grow up in an arguably disadvantaged environment that have no idea how to get out of their own disadvantage. Some look at these individuals as lazy, and others look at them as an example of what has gone wrong in America over time when we have marginalized specific groups of people using policies with institutionalized racism structurally within them. What is the answer, to take away the welfare all together or is it to have better rules of engagement, or is it to look elsewhere at the other reasons why we find these individuals in this position in the first place? I am sure most agree that there is not one answer, there are many and none of which that should involve completely ridding our nation of substantial socialist policies that keep individuals from living a life through hell.
Stepping away from policy and considering the impacts of the small and big decisions that are made for us during childhood and that we make on our own later in life, it is important to be thankful for what we have been given. It is important to evaluate why we are where we are today. It is important to acknowledge how grateful you are for the impact that parents, family, friends, and your environment have had on you. There is not one decision or experience that we have had with any of these people that has gone unnoticed in determining where our life goes, it all matters!
One of the main things about my, arguably privileged, upbringing that I believe determined my choice of pursuing my passion in city planning was the importance my parents placed on traveling and the importance they placed on visiting the cultural gems of Detroit. Without my experiences in Detroit and other major cities growing up, I do not believe I would have viewed my profession and groups of people, in general, through the same lenses. I’m thankful every day for that.
So, take a moment today to recognize what you are thankful for, and what you may not be thankful for. Consider all of these things and evaluate how it may have impacted your life and your outlook on the future. Consider your opinion of those around you, and why you may have those opinions, and whether they should be reevaluated.
Do yourself (and society) a favor and take a moment to recognize the impact of your environment around you!