The Shape Around You

I recently read that one’s surrounding environment shapes a person.  I see the logic in this: my daughter has had an urban upbringing.  She knows art and music and how to get around with mass transit, but is lacking in practical skills of outdoorsmanship, maintaining an actual house, and driving.  My Husband and I, well, there would be a steep learning curve if we ever moved to a house.  We don’t know lawn maintenance, or how often gutters needs to be cleaned, or hot to fix a hot water heater.  We live in a 19 floor high rise with a full time super and a handy man and a porter.  We throw garbage down a chute and have someone snake our drains.  If the hot water goes out I make a phone call, and usually, 20 minutes later hot water is magically restored.  We are completely shaped by the urban landscape in which we live.

Now, my husband and I chose to live this lifestyle.  As adults, we made an active decision to live in an urban environment.  Though I love nature and hiking, these things were not vital to my being.  I am perfectly happy hiking 5 or 6 times during the spring/summer/fall.  I don’t need to start up the grill at night to make dinner.  I don’t like to drive.  My perfect weekend would probably include a museum and some sort of show. I can do this most of the time.  So here’s the thought: am I shaped by my environment, or did I choose a setting that would best nurture my soul?

I grew up in a suburb of NYC where the main things were playing tennis and golf, drinking too much and shopping.  Sure, people had lovely houses and gardens, but they hired out the work.  True, some people really were avid gardeners, but it was mostly decorative.  Back in the day, few of my neighbors grew their own food. As a child I never felt comfortable in the suburbs.  I play tennis, and I played back in the day, but otherwise I did none of the things my neighbors did.  I was a reader, and I could normally be found in my room, nose in a book.  I shopped- but though many consider shopping a hobby, it really isn’t.  I never felt comfortable there.  I tried to adapt to a certain degree, but I felt out of sorts.  My environment didn’t really shape me: it just made me aware of what I wasn’t, which was mainly happy.

My daughter has spent her entire life in Manhattan, and yes, she is shaped by her environment.  She is a city girl through and through.  But, it’s a chicken/egg thing really: did she just adapt herself to her environment, or is she really an urban girl?

This question has come to light as we visit colleges.  We’ve visited suburban campuses, and campuses that are in quieter areas of major cities, and she has been known to utter the words “I don’t know if this is too rural.”  The first time we heard this was at a college that is technically part of a city, so close to the downtown area that the campus has it’s own subway stop… When we walk down a street with no one else on it she is bewildered: empty sidewalks just don’t exist in our part of the world.  And noise- actually lack of noise- she can’t sleep when it’s quiet.  Hearing birds chirp blows her mind.  She’d rather hear the bus driver announcing the next stop.  Though she is old enough to have a learner’s permit, she hasn’t even thought about taking the test.  To her, what’s the point?  We don’t own a car.

What does this mean?  When she looks at colleges, the first thing she notes is location.  If it’s anything other than urban, or town, she flips the page of the college guide book.  She does not think she could survive in an area where you can’t walk to Starbucks or stores.  She needs action.

Could she survive a different type of area?  She’s a Darwinist, so yes, she could adapt.  But will she really be happy?  Is she just meant to be a city girl?  Or is the urban lifestyle just totally ingrained in her?

I had a friend who lived in a rural area.  We used to joke about how J’s neighborhood had one traffic light and no building above 2 stories, while I could see 3 traffic lights from my third floor apartment.  J used to say that I would survive about 2 days in a rural setting, that the lack of people and buildings and noise would drive me crazy.  And perhaps J was right, perhaps the city is the force that gives me breath, that makes me thrive.  Maybe, without the bright lights I would wither and die.

So, what do you think?  Do you adapt to your surroundings, or do find an environment that suits your personality?