It is my experience that from a very young age we are all in some way products of our environment. As we grow up our values becomes imprinted into the neurons of our minds. They say that children fluently speaking a foreign language up the age of 10 continue to speak it fluently for life. That seems the age at which our neurons become more fixed and difficult to later change. As we mature it becomes very difficult to change the responses we have towards people, things, and events.
When I was young I learned as an impressionable child that minorities such as Black people were a bad influence who had tendencies to commit crime and were not good to associate with. I don’t remember my parents specifically saying this but I must have somehow picked this up among people in my life. The same is true for gays, Jewish people (no longer an issue), and other minority groups or characteristics. I think my values and profiling of people were quite common within the environmental cocoon I grew up in.
My emotional response to these people is to feel uncomfortable in their presence even though I intellectually know that these people pose no more threat than other people I meet. To change my natural response it seems I need to interact with these people daily for some time until my neurons slowly become reprogrammed. In fact I don’t live near any neighborhoods where this can easily happen and hope it is enough to intellectually know the truth. Nonetheless old feelings still resurface. It is easy to see how others can carry biases such as racism and homophobia even though they may have rarely knowingly interacted with these people.
Many have never made that intellectual transition as I have. Often others of similar minds in their sphere of friends, acquaintances, or religion fuel such biases. They give many reasons to support their discriminatory behavior as justification for their beliefs often religiously based.
But our impressions both positive and negative of people and event and our behaviors and responses to them characterize who we are as well as how we affect and influence those we impact. Often there is a disconnect between our emotional responses to someone or something and what our rational mind tells us causing us to reject the rational. For example we may experience through our senses such as sight something that goes against our common experiences or point of view leaving us in a state of disbelief and confusion so our mind play tricks on us and erroneously interprets what is happening in favor of our bias, totally rejecting the facts. An example is when a magician does the bean under 3 cups trick. You will swear that the bean is under an empty cup because that was your mind’s expectation but a sleight of hand placed it under another cup. This is why witnesses to violent crimes are often not reliable. The trauma of unexpected events sometimes plays tricks on the mind. Often witnesses to crimes are unreliable so police seek statements from multiple witnesses to paste together what most likely happened.
So our reactions to people and events are not reliable. I have often been wrong with first impressions of people. Sometime I judge a sloppily dressed unshaven person with messy hair as an uneducated and dumb person to later discover that person is a well-respected professor or public figure.
People also have tendencies towards some sort of proficiency or talent. Talent was considered an innate ability. But more recent studies show that upbringing is a major influence on expressing talent. Most certainly there are certain physical and/or mental attributes that make a person excel at a certain thing but it is possible that a talent at football could have manifested itself in basketball. Those talented at playing an instrument might have been equally talented at playing a very different instrument or some other activity using the same skill sets. I’ve known some good classical musicians and all of them without exception were also very good students. So the ability to learn plays an important role in being good at music. It is largely the early exposure of people with an innate abilities to some activity that aligns perfectly with that innate ability and the opportunities to exercise it that creates a talent. The four elements of starting at a young age, having an innate ability, having a perfectly aligning activity, and plenty of opportunity to practice that creates talent. On rarer cases the age factor come later in life.
So what we are is largely dependent upon the environment in which we grew up when young. And how we express those tendencies depends upon the opportunities we have in life to either express our innate abilities or not. We all have some things we are good at and others we are bad at. How well our experiences and opportunities align with what we excel at are what determines our successes or failures later in life. So some very ordinary people might have been geniuses had such conditions converged. But we also make choices in life whose consequences we are responsible for. For example some may have felt family obligations more important than pursuing their talents. However in the end we are all products of our environment which influence those and other decisions.