The scientific definition of evolution is a change in the gene pool over time. Yet, when we think of evolution in more of a practical sense, we picture giraffes who eventually gained long necks, increasingly flamboyant birds of paradise and their seemingly excessive mating dances, or two species of frogs that used to be one species but just ended up on different continents. Evolution is the process by which species of animals over time gain or increase traits that help them survive and produce greater numbers of offspring – Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory – which of course then leads to a gene pool with a larger amount of those specific traits that helped those individuals reproduce in the first place. Over time, species become more greatly adapted for the lifestyles they live and habitats they live in while at the same time losing traits that are no longer beneficial to the survival of the species as a whole.
I think our lives as humans can be looked at in the same way. Of course, here I am using the term “evolution” in a very different sense than the scientific definition. But I think evolution is still an apt term to describe what happens to us as humans as we go through our lives and grow and evolve as individuals. We retain some specific traits our entire lives and we refuse to give them up. Sometimes, those traits are core values; at other times, those traits are our love for certain subjects that we can’t imagine our lives without. Generally, I think these traits are what make the core essence of “I”, or of the individual to whom those traits belong.
However, there are many other traits that come and go over time simply because we reach a point in our lives were those traits stop becoming useful or even wanted for us. These traits seem to resemble more the vestigial leg bones in snakes or the human appendix: they are traits or characteristics that have no use anymore at this current point in time, but at some point surely did help with survival.
After all, we as beings are simply trying to survive our lives, are we not? Many of us aren’t struggling for food, water, and shelter on a day-to-day basis, but I think many of us are struggling to maintain our lives through the day-to-day process of living. By this, I mean that we get so caught up in the minutiae of the tasks, chores, projects, classes, work, food, errands, you name it that life and its demands simply swallows us whole every day if we aren’t careful.
This is where evolution in the individualistic, humanistic sense comes in. Remember those traits that make up our core? Those traits are what carry us through every day. And the traits that are no longer important get cast aside. Oftentimes, these traits come in the form of stories we tell ourselves about who we are. For instance, I’ve characterized myself as a ballet dancer for my entire living memory, and that sense of being a ballet dancer has helped and is still helping me get through this crazy cliff wall I am trying to climb called law school. At the same time, there are other characteristics of Past Katherine that have fallen off the wayside and no longer are pertinent to me as Katherine in the year 2018.
This is how we evolve. Traits that carry us through – whether that be ballet dancing or sheer stubbornness – stick with us as we grow and adapt to new surroundings and new narratives in our lives. Traits that no longer are important to us eventually stop existing or at the least fade into the background of ourselves, such as those vestigial snake bones.
I don’t know if awareness of our chosen narratives helps us in the long run. However, I do think it is important to know how you came to be where you are today and what things in your past influenced your present self. That awareness is how we can know that we’ve evolved. We all change, that much is beyond doubt. But whether we change in ways we want to or in ways we don’t want to is up to us, to at least a certain extent. We can choose which characteristics we want to inform our evolution and choose which characteristics to leave by the wayside. I suppose it’s just up to us to figure out what those traits are in the first place.