That’s men: We need to accept more about ourselves than we need to change


The apple does not fall far from the tree. I heard the phrase used most recently in relation to a gentleman who had encountered some trouble with his neighbours and whose family of origin were themselves on poor terms with those who lived around them in a different district. An older person was able to provide the information that it had been the same with the grandparents on the father’s side. “Even fell out with the priest. Had to go to Mass in the town.”

In this case, the genetic link implied in “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” is fairly clear.

But what of the case in which one member of an otherwise Fine Gael family supports the Socialist Workers Party? Did something go wrong in the genetic chain of command?

Not at all. People with a certain variation in DNA tend to seek out community. That seeking out of community may result in political involvement but doesn’t dictate what exactly that political involvement will be. It may also result in religious practice but does not dictate what the practice or denomination will be.

Here’s a twist, though: if you are genetically predisposed to strongly experiencing the sensation of disgust, and if you are also, genetically, more alert to a sense of threat, you are more likely to be conservative in your views.

If you are genetically predisposed to moving forward to encounter new experiences, you are more likely to be liberal. The theory is that encountering a range of new experiences makes you more liberal.

Facts like these are not always welcome. In an era in which we are told that you can be anything you want to be, the idea that our genes could push us in a particular direction politically and in many other ways, is not always welcome.

Yet we don’t seem to have a problem with the idea that footballers or horses could be genetically predisposed to being very good at what they do. But then that’s all about other people and animals – it’s not about our unique selves.

The idea that each of us is unique is treasured by many people. But while there is a certain uniqueness to us, many of our characteristics were determined long before we were born. The path we think we have chosen in life is partly an expression of that. That “partly” is important.

Our genetic inheritance takes us to particular sets of crossroads other people do not find themselves at because their inheritance leads them to different crossroads. Which road you take after that is a matter of choice and circumstance.

We need to accept more about ourselves than we need to change. Once we have done that, we might more clearly see how much scope we have for changing. It may be less than we think.

Addendum: I cannot prove it but I have a sense that people are more worn down by the stress of the economic crisis than they have been since it began.

Continuing, ongoing stress is bad for people. It keeps the fight or flight part of your brain on alert and, in turn, that keeps drip-feeding stress hormones into your system. This harms your health generally and it can lead you into depression.

For that reason, I was glad to see that Fingal Community and Voluntary Forum is to hold a public meeting tomorrow on dealing with debt stress. A range of mental health professionals, including myself, will speak as will representatives of Citizens Information and Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS). It’s a worthwhile initiative that could be replicated elsewhere (and perhaps is).

There is no shortage of well-trained counsellors and other mental health professionals who could speak at such meetings – which could literally be lifesaving.

The Fingal meeting will be in the Carnegie Court Hotel, Swords, Dublin, at 7.30pm and admission is free. The contact is

Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@ is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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