Ann Cannon: Nature vs. Nurture . . . and a neighbor gift gone wrong

This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Nature versus nurture: Are human beings the way we are because of genes or because or our environment? The question has fascinated philosophers forever.

I myself used to play for Team Nurture. I believed that personality was primarily shaped by an individual's experiences. Now, however? I'm not so sure. I'm beginning to think we're hard-wired to do the things we do.

Especially if those things are stupid.

Case in point. You know how people give their neighbors stuff to eat during the holiday season? Plates of cookies. Bags of Chex Mix. Jars of jelly. Boxes of "V" Chocolates. Bars of homemade soap.

Oh, wait. YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT SOAP, RIGHT? Not even if it's homemade and the color of a bar of fudge? Not even if it's wrapped up in plastic with a shiny bow on it like it's a bar of fudge? Not even if it's sitting there on your kitchen counter, mingling comfortably with all the other neighbor gifts like it's a bar of fudge? Not even if every single thing about that soap is tricking you into believing it's a bar of fudge, because you know how it is — nothing says MERRY CHRISTMAS like homemade soap sitting on your kitchen counter that looks like it's a bar of fudge?

Which is why a certain family member of mine took a bite out of a bar of soap last week. It looked like a bar of fudge.

OK, this was not a learned behavior. We did not have family drills at our house wherein we practiced consuming nonconsumable things that looked like consumable things. And yet over the years certain individuals who share my genes have done just that.

Another case in point. When I was in junior high school, my dad once accidentally gargled with some Queen Helene's Mint Julep Masque solution because he thought it was Listerene. He spit it out all over the mirror, thus causing my mother to ask him why he was gargling with Queen Helene's Mint Julep Masque if all he was going to do was spit it out all over the mirror. To be fair, my mother had purchased a large quantity of the QHMJM solution, which she then put into smaller containers, including an old Listerene bottle, so I guess we can give my dad a pass here.

Still. You get the point.

I myself am notorious for doing stuff like this. For instance, just this past summer I grabbed some toothpaste, absent-mindedly squirted it on my toothbrush and commenced daydreaming while brushing my teeth. But instead of feeling all minty fresh, I felt like I'd just eaten a bar of homemade Merry Christmas soap. So I checked out the toothpaste and realized I'd grabbed a brand new tube of Preparation H instead.

I know. TMI. Sorry if I just ruined your Christmas there.

Anyway, when I told my brother about what I'd done, he said, "Well, at least you won't have swollen gums now."

Which is another inherited family trait. Always looking at the bright side when you accidentally brush your teeth with Preparation H!

Meanwhile, have a Merry Christmas, everyone. And please remember not to eat the soap.