Tabula Rasa

I am firm in the belief that our environment is responsible for a lot of what makes us who we are. Part of who we are comes from genetics, but I believe the majority of it comes from the environment. And whatever genetic predispositions our minds have can still be greatly altered by the people around us and whatever situations in which we find ourselves during the developmental part of our lives. You are the product of your childhood. Your parents are mostly responsible for how you turned out. You totally have the right to blame them for all your problems, or if not them, then someone who played a major role in your early years. Even as an adult, every life that comes in contact with yours has the potential to shape and mold your self in new ways. You have just as much potential to shape and mold other people’s lives as well. As the saying goes, no man is an island. We are all interconnected and we all pull our nature from each other.

We all start out life as a blank slate. Throughout the time we spend on this planet, things are constantly being added to the parchment of our personality. Each new thing builds onto every other thing that came before it. Habits are formed, routines are established, opinions and ideals are isolated and solidified. Each addition to the page makes it more difficult to add something else because there is only so much space that can be utilized. It’s like you are trying to write out everything that defines yourself on a single sheet of paper.

During childhood the page is completely blank, so you make very large pen strokes. Then, during adolescence, you realize there is not quite as much free space anymore, so you make smaller markings. There is still plenty of space to write what you have to say though. As you enter adulthood, your letters become very small and scrunched together at the bottom of the page as you try to wrap things up. Hopefully you don’t have much more to add because you have pretty much run out of room. Throughout your later years you occasionally add a few things in the margins (you only have room to edit your initial draft with the most important changes). There is always room for additions, but it becomes more and more difficult to throw them in, and your initial large pen strokes will always dominate the page.

Life is written in pen. We cannot go back and erase our mistakes. We can, however, cross things out. We can acknowledge that our lives began to take a certain path, but now we choose to take a different path. We are forced to keep the scars of our past, but the depth of those scars depends on how thoroughly those previous markings are scratched out. Sometimes we can even get our hands on some whiteout and cover up old parts of ourselves in order to write in something new and fresh. It’s a way to somewhat recover that initial blank slate state, although there are still imperfections.

I feel like recently I was able to whiteout my life. Not all of it, but a large part of it that had been really dragging me down. A major part of me that was holding me back. And now that it is covered up, I can go back and rewrite it. I can explore options that I could have explored before but never did. At first I was relieved to be rid of such a burden, but now I am excited, because what was once a burden is now a huge opportunity to discover myself again. I can look at familiar ideas under a new light, and it is spectacular. Seeing things from a different perspective makes a huge difference in the way life itself is experienced.

Until next time, may you write legibly on your metaphysical parchment.


Notebook on Wood

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58 thoughts on “Tabula Rasa

  1. This was really well done and very insightful! I love the metaphor of life’s stages and decisions to pen on paper. There are very few opportunities in life to “whiteout” life and start again. They are certainly times that we should be thankful for, because of the excitement and spontaneity they provide!

    Cheers to you,
    Courtney Hosny

  2. You sound like some of the stuff I’ve learned in my Abnormal Psychology class. Parents, genetics, and environment do play a huge role in who we are and who we become, but so does education, culture, and how we learn. At least, that’s what I think.

  3. In the early part of your post, you make it sound as though people don’t make choices that shape their own character. Then, later on, you acknowledge choice somewhat. I consider self-generated choices (not in a vacuum, but in response to experience) to be the primary factor determining a person’s essential character.

    • Jon Ball says:

      Yes, I have a tendency to argue with myself in my writing. It’s all part of the writing process. I definitely agree that the choices we make have a huge impact on how we turn out, but I also think that in the early stages of life environment has a bigger impact. As a child you don’t really have many choices to make; almost everything is decided for you by the adults in your life. And where you are born and where you grow up are completely out of your control. But as you get older you know more about the world and you have more say about things, so your choices carry more weight. Thanks for the input 🙂

  4. fireandair says:

    “We all start out life as a blank slate.”

    You never had kids, did you?

    • Jon Ball says:

      No I have not. And I’m sure a lot of my opinions about life will change drastically the moment I do. 🙂

      • I do like your piece of work and your writing style, overall I think yours is an interesting opinion. However, I do not fully agree on the idea that we start out as a “blank slate”. Much research shows that environmental experiences can trigger off genes which respond to certain stimuli, nonetheless these genes need to be there in the first place. In conclusion, mine is only an informed comment and should be critically analysed. Keep up the good work though!

  5. An interesting assertion often heard, but I’d like to hear how it would explain the sharp differences that appear among siblings — how do you explain Jimmy Carter and Billy Carter? Or Bill Clinton and Roger Clinton? And all those in my personal experience where brothers and sisters seem to be from different species, including my own and my children’s. How do you explain the rare fall of some children from good families and the even rarer rise of children from marginal families?

    • While I cannot speak for the author, I thought I’d toss in my two cents. I think the differences in siblings can be traced to two primary factors: genetics and individual experiences. Not all genes are active in every person who inherits them ( for instance, my brother inherited the culinary arts from one side of the family while I cannot cook a meal made for more than two; likewise, I inherited the compulsion to collect words from the other side of the family while he finds the idea the mere existence of homonyms tedious). In regard to individual experience, within the same household, family members, no matter how close, still lead different lives and go through different trials and marking moments, which can stay with them in one form or another their entire lives. One must also consider time,even with no more than a year between them, one child will still be born into a different world than the other.

  6. When I was under 40, I felt exactly as you did about this eternally absorbing “nature vs. nurture question”. No opposing argument could dissuade me. However, I experienced something phenomenal at that time that forced me to take the opposite view. I became re-acquainted with my son, who had been given away for adoption at birth and raised in another state by compassionate strangers. (In those days there was no such thing as “open adoption”, where birth and adoptive families get to know each other.)

    He was raised in an atmosphere very different from mine, with a family whose values and behaviors and cultural orientation were conservative, religious and pragmatic, when mine had been very progressive, multicultural and arts-oriented. He had grown up in wealth. I had come from poverty. And yet at age 21 when I met him, he exhibited hundreds of the same behaviors, fears, quirks and talents that I have. We had the same sense of humor, the same tastes in music and media, and shared views on any philosophic area you could specify. Not only that, but he reminded me uncannily of my own deceased father, who he had also never known.

    Naturally, his adoptive family had sought me out to determine where the insanity came from. It’s mostly in the genes, my friend. Even though you get to make your own mistakes, your skill-set and preferences and capacities are all built-ins.

  7. Charlie Copley says:

    We are not passive characters where eugenics and environment shape everything. Will and ego are still a big part of what makes us up. I was very tomboy growing up, and my sister is feminine.

  8. What a great exploration for a writer to partake and to share. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Mistakes are an essential part of life. They are part of what gives our lives meaning in the long run. I love the image of writing in pen, but then crossing things out. Well done!

  10. jamesroom964x says:

    Nice metaphor. I like that you have the courage to tell people that the past will always be there, that there are no completely new starts. Every day is a new day, but it is based at least in part on the ones that come before. Much like writing, life seems to be a long, discursive process.

  11. sillysili says:

    Your fourth paragraph (“Life is written in pen. We cannot go back and erase our mistakes. We can, however, cross things out…”) is just golden.

    Thanks for reminding us the power of insight and redemption. 😀

  12. This is so thoughtful. Thanks!

  13. So much is about our attitudes.You can, in fact, change the past, because the past is not reality, right here and now. It only exists in the way we think about it. And so if we can change the way we see things in the past, we have literally changed the past! For instance, I used to feel like a victim because of the chaotic family I grew up in. But now I see that all the “quirks” that I developed to defend myself and survive also have a good side. They can be embraced and used for good, rather than resented as shortcomings. Life is a journey, lots of twists and turns, but we get to interpret where we have been.
    Congrats on being FP!

  14. Thanks for sharing this. It’s really insightful. I have so many things in life that I would gladly do all over again and make them better. 🙂

  15. I understand the image of life written in pen, but I am not sure that life truly is as clear and defined as ink-on-paper. Knowing “what” it was that “made” us who we “are” would seem to require extraordinary self-knowledge and perception, not to mention a truly fixed idea of oneself. I think the self is much more in flux.

    • Jon Ball says:

      Hmm, good point. Perhaps a more fitting analogy would be to say that life is like invisible ink written on a sheet of paper, which is then torn up into a hundred pieces and thrown into a blender… but perhaps not. Regardless, thanks for the input!

  16. Metaphysical parchment is a lovely way to put it! Really like the free flowing style of your writing. I think with the freedom is also encumbent a bit of trepidation – what to do with this free time and energy that is not wasted in the travails of the past?! But we all have our angels, sometimes we have to be one to ourselves. Cheers!

  17. I loved your post from a psychological point of view. Though, practically, and in reality, I’m not so sure that our ‘nurture’ plays such a sweeping role in developing our person, and, as Invisible Mikey pointed out, genetics seems to lay the bed we end up lying in: You can freeze vodka all you like, it’s never gonna go icy.

    • Jon Ball says:

      Perhaps a lot of it is wishful thinking. I would certainly prefer to live in a world where my environment and choices determine who I am, rather than something like genetics which I am stuck with from the beginning and have no ability to change. Thanks for the input!

      • It’s surely got to play a role. Surely. Maybe just not as big as we’d like it to be. Bah. I don’t know. Whatever. Again, nice post.

      • Just to quote a Rushdie ” Most of what happens in our lives takes place in our absense”. I think we are stuck with the way we are born and we cant change it. We can change but a bit part of our whole life by our own actions.

        Very well written article! I liked the metaphorical content. As for the philosophy everyones got their own ideas!

        Cheers and keep on writing!

  18. Ahh, the telescopic metaphor, and using writing to represent life, no less. I’m hooked. Whimsical praise aside, I have a fix for the reoccurring cry of “genetics” that is, in fact, already within your metaphor. Genetics represent the paper on which we write, the piece of parchment we cannot change or outgrow. But we can do what we will with it, crumple it up and throw it in the nearest waste bin (or bounce it off the rim to slowly unfurl again), laminate it in a sterile fear, or fold it into a paper airplane and watch it soar. Genetics may start the game, but we’re the ones who play it. ;]

  19. Xraypics says:

    Sorry Jon, I disagree with you. I have both children and Grandchildren, and each one of them came out of the womb with personalities of their own. Granted their parents moulded them to a certain extent, but they were people in their own right even before their parents started to bring them up (both our kids and the grand-kids). You just can’t say “Your parents are totally responsible for how you turned out”. Mate, it sounds like you have some issues to sort out with your parents. You should look very carefully at yourself before blaming them for your shortcomings.
    “We start out life as a blank slate” – Not true. My grand daughter came out with a chip on her shoulder, my grandson came out with a sense of humour. He was teasing us long before he could talk, explain that with your blank slate theory.
    On the other hand it sounds as though you might have put some of your hangups behind you (whiteout) and that means you are perhaps on the mend.
    Best of luck with the rest of your life. Tony

  20. jodiK says:

    As a visual artist, I am thinking about how this metaphor would be both similar and different if thought of in relation to a drawing or painting rather than words on a page. Consider Jackson Pollock’s all-over painting process. You work around a canvas, adding marks here and there and everywhere, partially or completely covering older marks with newer marks. Deciding when you are finished with the piece is part of the challenge. I’m glad you have a chance for a mostly fresh start. Just don’t be afraid to let the residue of the past bubble up from time to time. Sometimes its nice to have something to work with and against as you start a project.

  21. Jacobian says:

    very great writing, are you a philosopher? you’re so good at describing something in words

  22. pelangiiarsy says:

    Your Blog is great Blog Jon 🙂
    I wanna tell you that “Tabula Rasa” is like an Indonesian Languange. The fist time I saw that sentence, i guess u are an Indonesian, and then you are not 🙂

  23. Perhaps genetics provides us with the pen and paper. We develop our own handwriting and story. We cant change the paper, but we can always edit.

  24. candra1983 says:

    You pictured life very well. It´s a way to visualize it and I think you´re right with waht you said. It´s a thing we all should think about.

  25. lsthurman says:

    Bravo!!! I love it…how inspiring…thanks for sharing your journey and in transparency bringing healing to others who have yet to unveil their “True Self”.

  26. I enjoyed reading this very much. Loved the analogy of the pen and paper..

    However, I would like to comment on your statements on how we are molded by the ideals of our parents. I agree that we are shaped by the people in our lives but also by our environment. Try looking at the bigger picture. Aside from the fact that as infants we are very self-centered, our opinions, perspectives, and ideals are later socially-charged. Not only by parents and our peers, but by society!

    The customs of your background have a tremendous effect on your personal development. Starting with language, for example. (Here’s a small anthropology lesson: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis states that language, culture and thought influence one another.) Quite literally, we are a product of what we are exposed to.

    As we are exposed to more of life, we want to cross things out and revise, as you mentioned. So I think you had the right idea anyways.

    Nonetheless, this was a very well-thought out blog post.

  27. anb183 says:

    I really liked the way in which this was written. I agree with basically everything you said too, from a philosophical aspect I think you’re influences are wider than just those close to you, however. As a child everything is interesting, anything around you is a game, or an adventure, even if you don’t consciously realise it. As you grow up you start cutting down on the adventurous outlook, things that were fun become normal, but thats because they’ve somehow changed your outlook. Good luck on your journey, I hope it’s as exciting as it sounds!

  28. So insightful. Your writing inspires me to update my blog.

  29. I have to say… Tabula Rasa… the title itself really caught my eye… and then the article, great… I have never been one to prescribe to the blank slate theory… I mean seriously, with evolution and genetics being at the forefront of science how could anyone possibly believe that we are not born with certain traits, etc… I also agree that environment and experience, the whole nature vs. nurture issue, obviously being both, is at the heart of every beings personality and abilities…
    I do however believe there is an age, when we come into our own, we start to grow up, become educated, and responsible for our own actions, regardless of the foundations and experiences laid for us during those formative years, as I personally believe that we have many different stages of formative years, and are constantly growing, learning, evolving, changing, and Thank God for that… what kind of being would we be if not for change, adaptability and reasoning… to blame our parents, or guardians, child rearers, whatever each of us had, and some of us had a combination of many, is fine until we reach a certain age of reason and capability, intelligence, education, etc…
    We do have to own our behavior, we are responsible for ourselves, which means when we are unhappy, when we are not functioning properly, whether some become abusers of substance, others become agoraphobic, so on and so forth… We as adults must realize something is wrong and regardless of what has gone on during our formative years, which yes, does have an effect on our personality, as genetics does as well, we have to own that, and we have to fix that ourselves, at some point, we just have to say, regardless of what has happened, this is where I am, this is what I am looking at, and it isn’t working for me, I am unhappy, etc… and as adults, mature teenagers, young college students, we have the choice and the responsibility to ourselves to fix that… placing blame is a negative approach and honestly for some might actually give some release, but I don’t see it actually fixing anything… owning ourselves, our feelings, actions, behavior and realizing we can modify those things to suit who we are and who we want to become seems a much more positive an realistic approach…
    Again, such a beautiful article and so nice to see that someone else in this world sees that nature and nuture are both part of who we are and who we become… enjoyable read… Thank you for sharing…

  30. “Life is written in pen. We cannot go back and erase our mistakes.”

    Great line. Thanks for the interesting read!

  31. I agree that we ALL started out as a tabula rasa, and, as we grow, the “tablets” become covered with permanent ink or sometimes, erasable markers, and, some things, you just can’t erase from your life, like the mistakes that you had made, and, there is NO way you can go back, no matter how much you wanted to

  32. Chas Spain says:

    Agree with some of the comments here about the ‘pre-formed personality’. One startling example was my mum meeting her half sister when she was about 47 – by then her half sister was about 60. Despite having been raised completely separately and under greatly different circumstances, there were incredibly strong familial traits.

    Similarly with my 3 children they all seemed to arrive pre-formed. While I fretted about my parenting (eg I could never teach my first daughter to tie her shoelaces but my next child learnt with one short example and then tied her older sister’s laces) – I slowly learnt that there are certain traits that determine to our approach to the world.

    This is not to say intense or extreme experiences cannot have a strong impact on personality and attitude etc. Two of my children spent an intense period of time in hospital. Fortunately all was well and, for them, this intense experience was ultimately positive, but of course it could go either way without the right support.

  33. Thanks for sharing! I loved reading your post… I’ve been grappling with parts of my past for some time now also. And too have had some major breakthroughs. I think if we are able to stay open to progress and growth then we can gain a clearer perspective on much of what was ultimately beyond our control… it can’t be changed, but the way we view it can be. Perspective is everything. Thanks again 🙂

  34. drcrpsych says:

    Reblogged this on times good & bad and commented:
    I read this blog and realise that it is often our ‘natural’ response to want to ‘white out’ the bad bits of our lives or forget about them or simply ignore them all the while moving further into our journey, whilst not acknowledging those things we ‘stuffed up’ therefore not changing the behaviour or attitudes… ignorance?? bad choices?? arrogance?? ingrained or embedded patterns?? the reasons for behaving ‘not so well’ is as unique as each individual and determined by his or her genetics, psychology and environment. The solution however is not! The level of difficulty and potential of success is inversely correlated to insight, motivation and persistence.
    To live an authentic life in every moment is a challenge particularly if external ‘things’ are more important to self than self is. These ‘things’ will influence thoughts, decisions and actions. The self can get lost in all of that and the external rather than being a representation of the internal can become the master of our actions.
    It’s hard work keeping all the balls in the air, behaving in a way that others expect in different environments, with different people, wearing different hats. Tis much easier to just ‘be’… express who you are honestly, with dignity and poise and move through events that evolve in your life in a State of Grace (both a Christian concept and a characteristic developed by the elite or others who were fortunate to develop or inherit it ‘naturally’). This is not a condition of the past, it can be acquired now, it is something to aspire to, it is a state in which even the bad things are negotiated ‘from a moral higher ground’ and when conflict abounds possessing the ability to step aside and seek solutions that work for all (with some concessions from all involved no doubt) then it is with Grace that you will reap rewards and appreciation. Remember, it is your reaction to any particular situation that speaks volumes about you and not the situation.
    This place/space/state can not be sought or acquired when denying or ignoring past behaviours and past attitudes. This is the first step of mending the past. I would urge reflection without guilt, recall the events, recall your response, recall why you responded in such a way, know that more than likely you did what you could with the knowledge and resources around you at the time, acknowledge perhaps that you could have done better, would have done things differently now (which is a great position to be in), know that the lesson is learned and move on. Relish those moments things went wrong, without them you would not be questioning as you are now.
    Winston Churchill is quoted as saying…. “Pessimists see difficulties in every opportunity, Optimists see opportunities in every difficulty”. Which are you? Can you review your life, acknowledge your past, embrace the good, the bad, the ugly warts and all? Let it be the foundation of your present and future thoughts, decisions, behaviours, reactions? Can ya? 🙂
    Its a nice place to be when you have the age, wisdom, patience with yourself, and knowledge to do this. I would have enjoyed a lot more of my life had I done this earlier than my 50th year, but I always was a bit of a slow learner, or maybe there were not these discussions around then. I am using my mistakes and foibles to put this out there in the hope that someone (even just one person) can do this ‘stuff’ a little easier, can ‘get it’ a little earlier and can then pass it forward.
    See ya next time I put fingers to keyboard. Take care c

  35. I really like your blog and would love you to feature on mine, All you have to do is write five suggestions along with a link back to your site. Please check out the blog and see the sort of things people have written about.

  36. Lovely post. Whilst I believe a lot of who we are is made up of our genes, our parents, our childhood experiences, etc, I love the idea that even though so much is already written out for us we do have that pen that gives us the choice to scribble over our life plan and change it however we see fit. Life gives us our options and we decide what to make of them. Whether it’s picking one, giving them all a go, or throwing them back and saying ‘hey, I don’t like these options, I’m going to do something different’.
    Inspiring. 🙂

  37. Mike says:

    I have a middle-ground view about the blank-slate idea: We aren’t born with information, but we are born with a sort of pattern for organizing information. We’re not so much like blank slates as we are like cookie cutters who have never seen dough, or a brand new CoinStar machine, ready to organize whatever we encounter in our own way. What do you think of that idea? It seems to bridge a nature/nurture gap, and account for the inability to pick one or the other of those two, as by nature we are born with a pattern, but through experience we may alter it. Thanks for your thoughts.

  38. nice and very imaginative explanation about phases of life

  39. Toner Laser says:

    Thank you for sharing this story with us, it´s kind of inspiring!

  40. Sweet post. Great read! …Have you ever tried meditation by the way? I think it can teach you how to go back to that “blank slate state”, from which you can begin to rewrite your story as you please. You can examine your beliefs one by one and choose to discard or keep them.

  41. callowayvera says:

    It’s a relief that I recently read John Locke so I’m up to speed on all this. It’s very philosophical, you’re theory. Food for thought. ,

  42. I find the idea of Tabula Rasa interesting, but I don’t think we start off in a blank state. Rather, our personality types are more or less defined as a base, or set of biases. The growth or reduction of these biases is where I believe others have an impact, but it’s extremely rare for them to have a greater impact than that. Again, the nature/nurture and island/herd debates have continued throughout the ages and it’s very difficult to quantify. On a slightly irrelevant note, the pen in that picture is one of my favourites.

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