A young person wrote to me recently with this question: ‘Am I just a reflection of my environment?’ It is a question I have visited many times in the past. But as always, the answers vary with time, getting more nuanced or complex, whichever way you want to look at it, because one changes constantly as one is exposed to newer knowledge and experience.
Alluding to the ‘myriad ways in which people choose to spend their time, [and] the priorities they set to invest [their time] in,’ the correspondent asked how far one’s upbringing can impact one’s thoughts, tastes and principles, and whether such impact becomes impossible to erase after a certain age.
My own feeling, which, as I have already mentioned is in a constant state of flux, is this. Whether you take the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s constructions of ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’ or the Indian philosophical thought’s conceptions of ‘Manas’ and ‘Buddhi’, it all works out to a constant exchange [or clash] between emotions, intuitions and premonitions on the one hand and the compulsion to perform an act on the other. The former are mediated by System 1 or Manas, according to me, and the latter, by System 2 or Buddhi. However, whereas the volition or impetus is provided by System 1 or Manas initially, System 2 or Buddhi is providing continuous feedback in order to refine the reflexive impulses of System 1 or Manas.
The choices we make or the priorities we set ourselves are System 2 acts, or acts of the intellect [Buddhi]. Emotion, intuition and premonition, which are System 1 or Manas [Mind] functions, underlie our proclivities towards particular choices. However, as the feedback loop from System 2 to System 1 is perennial, the impact of System 1 on System 2 would certainly have been cultivated over time. Therefore, to my mind, upbringing or environment can, at best, be a force that starts you off on the journey, no more. You are what you are because of all that happened to you in the process of becoming – the exposure to experiences which have defined the trajectory of your System 2 responses.