My grandson Miles is a clone of his dear old granddad. His other granddad. He doesn’t look a thing like me. And that’s not the only way in which we’re not alike. At age seven, he’s a kid triathlete. My other grandson, Tim, is a dead ringer for his maternal granddad too. He likes to fence (whereas I only like to sit on them) and play the piano (on which I might eke out chopsticks on a good day…after a lot of practice).
I’ve always wished I'd gotten my grandfather’s photographic memory and my mother’s lovely singing voice. Alas, I was blessed with neither. I see the memory trick in my children, though, and a couple of them sing like angels. Luck of the draw, I guess.
Traits I can identify and admire, wish I had, hope my kids do, are only a small part of who we are, though. I used to think our children are a kind of continuation of ourselves, if not clones at least Darwinian conduits. Perhaps they are in some ways, but I now understand that, in terms of how we think of ourselves, when sperm hits egg and all those genes are up for grabs, what is produced is a whole that is different than the sum of its parts. Gait, eye color and chin cleft may be passed along, but the individual is distinct.
I don’t know why this should surprise me. I never thought I was my father or my mother. I never saw any of them in me. Why then should I expect to see myself in my children? Vanity, I suppose. But Mother Nature is not vain; and she apparently believes that to be anything other than an apple orchard, we must not only be a little different, but we must think we are a lot different.
We all feel this individuality within ourselves. We feel unique, set apart from others. This strong sense of self gives us the courage to chart a course for ourselves in a confusing and difficult world. Eventually we may come to realize that we’re not really that different, that we’re more like apples than we’d like to admit, but certainly for the first half of our lives we think we’re special, that we can make a difference. Most of us think we know best about most things. You need that self-confidence to boldly go.
Our questing, our dreaming, has been the source of our collective strength, with each of us functioning like individual genes to make up a dynamic organism. Nature’s little practical joke, though, is that all that self-confidence, all that knowing we are right, all that pursuing our own truth, makes it hard for us to get along. In a world that is no longer uncharted, in which we are so crowded together that cooperation has become an essential survival skill, the egocentricity that made us great explorers is getting in the way of our becoming good collaborators.