Guiding our Genes

artists born or madeA writer once said, “Journeys, like artists, are born and not made.” (Lawrence Durrell)genes

Really? Are we born into who we are? I know we contain these things called genes, which help us become who we are – the tall gene or the short one; blue-eyed or the brown-eyed gene; the one for a dimple in the cheek or high cheekbones; a gene tendency to grow up lean, or fat.

But are we also comprised of a gene to be an artist or a stockbroker, a train conductor or an engineer?

And then I remember Tory.Guide Dog for the Blind, genes

Tory was my family’s first dog – a golden retriever bred by the Guide Dogs to be a perfect animal to guide and protect the blind. The right height, weight, disposition: sweet, docile, loving, yet with a streak of strength and stubbornness.

In fact, Tory was so perfect, the Guide Dogs organization used her as a breeder (of other perfect dogs), and we became her adopted parents, taking care of her until time to do her duty and produce offspring. Once her litter was born and nursed, Tory came back home with us.

For us, Tory was a perfect family dog. She never met a human she didn’t love.

However, she disliked just about every dog or cat who crossed her path. People oohed and ahh’d when Tory and I walked the lovely Bay path, but if another leashed dog came along, my sweet dog would snarl tightly and lead me firmly away from the unsavory beast.

A mere inconvenience for us as dog owners.

But when it came time for her to breed a third litter, the Guide Dogs rejected her!

Yes, they fired Tory.


Because every single one of her puppies – 8 in her first litter and 9 in her second – disliked dogs and cats. And a Guide Dog who snarls at other dogs cannot be used as a loving companion to a blind person, because that loving dog could lead her person the wrong way, just to avoid a four-legged creature.

So, then, are we only how we arrive, genes intact? Are we born as artist or preacher, as anthropologist or philanthropist?

Are we born mean or nice?

apple pie, genesDo we snarl at strangers because our great-grandfather did, and do we bake the best apple pie this side of the Mississippi because of our great great great-aunt?

What do you think – can we guide our genes, or do they just guide us into who we are?

genes, dogs, Guide Dogs

Smart Tory learned new tricks every day…
thanks to my guy, or good genes?

31 thoughts on “Guiding our Genes

  1. Hmmm, that’s a big question. I’m not sure I have an answer, all I can go on is a gut feeling that I have no choice but to be who I am and do what I do and I don’t think I could learn to hold my tongue when someone else says something unkind or untrue and I don’t think I could stop myself rolling my eyes when someone says something stupid or repeats themselves. Equally I don’t think there’s anything in this world that could stop me writing or singing or inventing things in my head. I’ve tried to knuckle down and get a ‘normal’ job, it would be so much easier sometimes, but I’m just SOOOO unhappy every time I try, like something in me has died so…hmmm, looks like my answer is Yes, though i took a long way round to say it…


    • I appreciate your roundabout answer, because it shows your thought processs as you try to figure out – are you made this way because it’s what is inside you, or is what is inside you this way because of how you’re made? Oh, dear, I”m making it even more convoluted! All I DO know is that I can tell that I really like the way you’re made up.


  2. I’d have said our genes make us the shape and size we are but that we must have the option of guiding them through choices otherwise the children of crooks would be crooks and wouldn’t have the choice to distance themselves from that lifestyle. My father was a particularly nasty drinker and I wouldn’t have had the option of avoiding that way of life. Some murderers have surprised people given how nice their parents are and how loving and stable their upbringing.
    I can’t speak for the Tory’s of the world though perhaps given an inbuilt memory maybe puppies could be introduced to kittens as companions quite early, but human beings seem to have a capacity for finding their own path if they can be bothered.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx


    • Oh my, what a fabulous, thoughtful answer! You’re making me feel so much better about the chance of our guiding our genes. And you’re right – so many of us have overcome what our ancestors could not – so that means the ‘genes’ don’t have total power over us. Yay! Hugs back.


  3. I can’t answer the question either, but I can see a lot of my Aunt Agnes (she helped raise me) in me. Actually, I’m more her than my Mom I think. Though it could all be the loving, strong-willed environment in which I was raised.


    • So you’re proving nurture over nature. Who knows? Maybe if we had introduced Tory to a friendly cat, slowly, slowly, she wouldn’t have chased it up a tree and barked until she was hoarse! And then maybe her puppies would have all meowed like a cat. 🙂


  4. Your question has me stumped. It’s the old nature/nurture question. I did have a bit of a chuckle, if it is allowed, over the reason why Tory was ‘fired’. It really does set the mind to wondering, doesn’t it?


    • Tory wasn’t insulted in the slightest at being ‘fired’ – I think she was VERY happy to end her breeding days and just live like a happy spoiled dog. Overall, 17 babies was quite a lot of work.


  5. For me, the answer to the nature/nurture debate is the same as my answer to the God/evolution debate; I think that both sides are completely correct.

    There is nothing out there (besides one’s lack of imagination) that suggests it needs to be an either/or situation. I think the world is much too complex and fascinating for that to be true.

    Oh, and Tory is beautiful, by the way.


    • I think you are absolutely correct! It was scary, at first, hearing that all of Tory’s puppies had the same trait – but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have overcome their immediate dislike of other dogs, when given a chance.

      There can be no definite yes/no, black/white, chicken/egg first or last. And for us writers, isn’t it wonderful that the world IS so complex and fascinating?

      Thanks for the compliment on Tory – cool story – when we first got her she had been neglected, full of fleas, and almost hairless at 3 years old. We groomed her (shampooed, sprayed, combed daily) into health, and she gave us such unconditional love for the next 9 years of her life.


  6. dogs like humans are only partially shaped by our genes, we have that innate gift of a genetic endowment that sizzles and burns thru our existence.
    Our genes are only one part of the puzzle, our life experience also shapes our outlook. While many of my high school classmates are cool and ok, some just wanted to hurt because they in turn had been hurt.
    genes are the base from which our life is overwritten and provide us with that native talent which awaits the spark of another Human to ignite that flame.


  7. Pam, as far as the nature/nurture question – beats me. But I do have a very literal answer to your literal question: are artists born or made? Neither my husband nor I have the slightest artistic ability. But from the time our daughter was old enough to hold a crayon, she made very clear to us that she was an artist. I didn’t say “that she was going to be an artist,” because somehow at age three or four, she already was one. She would sit for hours in intense concentration, drawing an object in whatever room she was in, or copying a photo or illustration. We didn’t know how to help, except to encourage and praise her, and sign her up for as many art classes as we could. Other than that, we basically just got out of her way. Now she’s almost 18 and headed off to art school in the fall. So, based on this sample of one, I would say without question that artists are born. We were just lucky enough to be around when it happened!


    • Soooo interesting about your daughter! There’s no ancestral artist hidden somewhere in your family tree? Well, you prove what I want to believe. We are who we are inside because of our own unique being, not because of our family’s genes. Best of luck to your talented daughter!!


  8. The nature v.nurture debate has always had me stumped. I’ve read stories about identical twins separated at birth who have exactly the same personalities, ideas and thoughts regardless of their upbringing. In this sense my lean is towards being born the way we are and just having to live with it 😉


    • I know, I’ve read those stories about twins too – kind of strange and a little scary, if it means we have no choice about how we turn out. I prefer to think we’re living with the ‘way we are’ because we like and choose to be ‘who we are.’ Hmmm, however, I don’t like my claustrophobia and certainly didn’t choose it – I blame my dad for that one. 🙂


  9. Of course you have to ask us one of these unanswerable questions. 🙂 (Oh how I love to ask unanswerable questions and see what folks come up with!) I don’t know what I believe. My sociologist son thinks it’s all sociology. I used to think it was all personal will with some gene potential added in. Today I think–drum roll, big announcement, current thought: there is a place beyond duality where genes/free will cannot be articulated. We can only live in the present moment where unfolding happens. Having said that, it’s time to get ready to go out to lunch with my friend. We’ll see if genes/free will allows it to happen.


    • To add to the mix of unanswerable questions re free will/genes/living in the present moment where unfolding happens, I’m currently reading a novel that is convincing re the fact that, really, there is no such thing as ‘time’ either. So are we unfolding in this minute, or the past or future minute? Ha Ha. These are the things that keep my mind wired at 3 a.m.!


  10. I have no standing to declare what caused Tory and her offspring to snarl, growl and mistrust those other canines, but as I I will with any Golden Retriever, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was the only one who knew the true makeup of those other dogs and everyone else was being bamboozled. Of course, this theory falls down if Tory also objected to other Golden Retrievers. How much more difficult it becomes if two of these wonderful dogs are part of the equation.

    I think I would have liked Tory.

    BTW, do you know if Tory’s siblings also had trouble getting along with other dogs?


    • Two great questions! Now that I think about it, Tory never had a probem with other goldens. So you may be right, she was just protecting me from some ‘bad’ dogs!
      And no, I never heard about her siblings. My guess is that they didn’t make it into the breeder program like she did. Personally, we were all glad she was ‘fired,’ because three litters (for Tory) was three too many.


  11. I am that one in the family who went her own way and became the artist. Everyone else is in business of some type, but I graduated in Interior Design and worked as one for a long time before giving it up to write. I still have an intense interest in design and architecture and spatial form, but I also have a n e e d to express and to be heard… things that design and art can do in abstract, visceral ways, but not the way I wish.
    Anyway… who knows the answer? All we have to figure out your question (which fascinates me) is examples like me and others, and speculation about animals. So many others out there could be… or should be…, but for whatever reason, they just aren’t.
    I guess that part comes down to freedom of choice and man’s decision making on what he or she will become.
    As for your precious pooch, that’s too bad about the guide dog gig. At least you know you need never fear a visit from Bigfoot!


    • When you think about it, being a writer is about design – designing characters and their stories. So you ‘graduated’ from spatial form to imaginative writing form. Wonderful.
      Your comments made me remember my aunt (who I loved even though I didn’t get to know her that well). She was a woman ahead-of-her time, with a big job in marketing/advertising. She wrote me a poem when I was about 10, predicting that I would become the writer in the family. How did she ever know?????


      • Okay, this encouragement came just when I needed some. Thank you!
        P.S. I hope you framed your poem. Very few people get to have a poem written expressly for them, then an interior designer’s advice to frame and display it. 😉


        • Oh, I so wish I still had it. I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as a sunny day. She even pasted a picture of a model, ensuring me that one day I would look that good too. Well, the poem is framed in my brain, and I hope to be the kind of aunt she was for me, to my niece!


  12. I love my dogs with all my heart. I think they are so very intuitive. I have a Springer Spaniel and he is extremely particular who he will allow to get close. Other animals AND humans. Goldens are beautiful dogs. I rescued a puppy last summer that had been dumped in our subdivision with 2 other litter mates. The others were found first. I do not understand people who can be so cruel to animals. It doesn’t make sense 😦


    • Springer Spaniel’s are beautiful dogs. Then again, I’m with you – all dogs are beautiful. And the dogs that are scary mean (baring teeth, barking wildly) do that because they’ve been mistreated. I’m afraid that’s why humans mistreat animals, too….


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