Do we inherit genes, or do we inherit beliefs?

I was talking to a couple the other day about children and what they are currently doing. The man is
a mathematician and his wife a musician. Their elder son is also a talented musician and the second
one is an engineer. They asked me about our children, and I told them one has a degree in product
design and the other is at a university studying humanities. They asked me immediately why neither
of our children were scientists knowing both parents are qualified in scientific subjects. They also
asked me which one of us was more ‘artistic’. I simply said that it was up to them what they studied
(or not) … but this conversation got me thinking, is it to do with our genes which path our offspring
take or is it to do with our beliefs about what they should be doing based on our past experiences?
This type of conversation is not uncommon amongst families and friends, or at workplaces when we
talk about our families and what we do for our careers. We often end up asking which one of our
families are good at maths/music/sports etc and thus making assumptions as to why we have
chosen certain professions. This also extends to pupils applying to universities to study certain
subjects or professions based on similar assumptions and beliefs. Indeed, I often hear students
saying ‘I am not good at maths, my dad wasn’t either’ ‘My mum is good at painting and so am I but
she said that wouldn’t pay the mortgage, so she told me to study science’ ‘My brothers went to
study medicine and are both doctors, I must be stupid as I can’t even remember simple chemistry
formulae’ etc…
Regardless whether it’s genes or beliefs this is reinforced at schools; one of my children struggled at
A’ level as they were often compared (not maliciously by any means) to the elder sibling who studied
the same subject 2 years earlier. I am sure teachers meant well but being constantly compared to
their older brother/sister can and did put them off. It took applying the SEJ for myself and with them
to turn this situation around.
A similar thing happened to me when I was younger. I was told by well-meaning relatives that as a
woman I should consider marrying well rather than pursuing a scientific career. That I should not
seek to be too highly qualified as it could put some men off marrying a woman with a PhD!
Thankfully this kind of ‘encouragement’ is far less common but projecting and perpetuating limiting
beliefs and expectations on young people still happens. We as parents say this to our children and to
ourselves; as educators we say this to our students and pupils; as relatives and friends we say this to
our young people. The most shocking thing is when children say ‘I can’t do it like my sister as I am
not clever liker her’ ‘My mum says I am not going to be as good a footballer as Charlie next door as
my dad isn’t good at sports either’ ‘I’m not going to even try as Dad says kids like us don’t go to
The best thing we can do as ‘adults’ in these young people’s lives, is to apply the SEJ process to
dissolve as many limiting beliefs as possible and stop projecting our expectations and assumptions.
Also, to encourage and nurture them to try new things and seek new experiences, to support them
to build resilience and a positive mental attitude to let them know that there is nothing they can’t do
once they put their mind to it. The SEJ process will show us how to do that; in challenging genetics
and beliefs that stop our future generations flourishing.
Dr M Howard-Kishi

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