Survival of the Friendliest:

                                               Defining  Yourself

                                      Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.

“Survival of the Fittest” is the widely accepted Darwinian theory of evolution that states: “The fittest individuals of a species survives through centuries despite harsh conditions and environmental changes that destroy others in that group.” I have often wondered how someone like me, born with life-threatening illnesses which increased over the years survives and thrives through 70 years if it is only the “fittest” who survive. (I am happy and functioning like a “healthy’ 70 year old, despite a medical chart that would make you weep.)

My question was answered while I watched a documentary on how dogs are hypothesized to have evolved from wolves. Though closely related, today’s wolves and dogs are genetically very different; however a gene has been isolated in dogs which wolves do not have. Scientists call it the “Friendliness Gene.”

Wolves who were curious and hungry ventured closer and closer to the primitive human tribes thousands of years ago. The more adventurous, calm and friendly they were towards humans determined how well they ate. The “friendly” ones were treated to food and even shelter by humans. Over hundreds of years bonds formed, and these friendly wolves outlived their more aggressive counterparts. It was not how physically “fit” they were that gave them an edge on very fit wolves. It was friendliness, and willingness to try and reach outside the normal way of doing things.

This creates a whole new paradigm for how a chronically ill person can outlive (or at least survive) more than some more physically fit types. There are other traits we have that determine our quality of life and, in many cases, our quantity of life.

Think of yourself in terms of your personal qualities which help you adapt to the conditions of your life. Name and focus on your characteristics that have helped you survive, and in some cases, thrive in life. That is how you define your ability to live a meaningful life. Not some random genetic code which is thought of as “fit.”

By focusing on your positive personal qualities and survival mechanisms you will live a much higher quality life; and those qualities will strengthen. Define yourself in terms of your strengths, not your illness nor your hardships. The words you use to describe yourself make a huge difference in how you behave, feel, and fulfill your purpose in life.

You might not be considered physically fit; but you may have qualities much more powerful in human existence. Emphasize those qualities and you will thrive.

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D. 12/12/2022

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