Thursday, April 14, 2005

Epiphanies of the Selfish Genes...

Once in a while you have a little epiphany; the mists of your ego roll away, and something about the world becomes clear and concrete. Struck by what you feel is a new understanding, you resolve to become a different, better person. Usually, you're soon back in the grip of your weaknesses and foibles and stupid little hang-ups, which short-circuit your better intentions. But at odd opportune moments, something of your moment of clarity resurfaces and reminds you to get some perspective – occasionally it even stops you from behaving like quite so much of an asshole. So in some incremental way, you have in fact become a better person…

Last weekend I met for the first time my five week-old niece Alexandra, or Alex as she'll be known from now on unless she perversely decides to prefer the longer version of her name. She's small and delicate, not quite entirely helpless, and is just figuring out that the humaniverse comes in discrete person-size packages. I should stress that I do not “like babies”. At my workplace, when the latest new mother brings in her baby to show off at morning tea and have colleagues compete to goo-ga at the child, I usually become extra interested in the report I’m writing. Frankly, I find the baby-appreciating ritual an uncomfortable mixture of baffling, cloying and frightening.

But seeing Alex was different. It’s not like I was suddenly in raptures of joy, struck by the beauties of babydom or, god forbid, convinced that I’d like one myself. But I did feel something new and unique; when she smiled at me (or was it a yawn) I felt like I’d been favoured by royalty. I wanted to protect her, give her presents, maybe teach her some stuff when she gets older. It was genuinely sad to think that I mostly won’t be around to see what happens as she grows up.

This is, of course, because she’s related to me. As Richard Dawkins, Stephen Pinker et al would happily point out, my sudden attack of tenderness is related to the fact that a whole bunch of my selfish genes are seeing themselves perpetuated, and without even any effort on my part - happily, Sophia and Jeremy have volunteered for the task of cleaning up the poo. But who cares? It’s still an epiphanistic experience, and I know that young Alex will pop up in my thoughts every now and again to remind me not to be so bitter and grumpy – she’s one more reason to live.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading about your new level of appreciation, Simon.

Love fom your paternal "selfish gene"

Simon Doherty said...

I believe that the word you are looking for is "epiphanic". Still ugly. Perhaps "experience of epiphany" would be better.


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