The Blame Game - Lamarckian Theory Gone Wild

Note: Every now and then, I yap incessantly about a certain topic and not until much later do I learn that there's actually a sophisticated academic term that can be applied to said topic.

Most recently, someone commented about Lamarckian theory -- the assertion that characteristics acquired during one's lifetime can be passed on to one's offspring.

This caught my attention because I know it's something that my family latched onto and then went waaaaaaay overboard. In fact, I made fun of it in one of my old SIGNews articles. Now that I've been enlightened by some of my more academic friends, I thought I'd dig this article out of my archives and share with you. Enjoy!

Many years ago, my grandmother went deaf when she bumped her head on a nail. The nail protruded from a makeshift swing on an old tree and punctured her skull at just the right location to destroy all auditory nerve function. Her oldest son, Robert, later lost his hearing when someone slapped him upside the head. Another son, Donald (who happens to be my father), lost his hearing after a tonsillectomy.

Uh-huh. Those are some interesting stories regarding the origins of our deafness. Me? I got it from a toilet seat.

If you factor in my great-grandmother, also deaf, that’s four generations of accidents. We are the Gerald Fords of deafness. Crash! Pow! Bang! Crunch! Huh? Hey! Where did the sound go?

My family has a knack for coming up with the craziest reasons we’re deaf. In fact, “Top Ten Reasons the Drolsbaughs Lose Their Hearing” will soon air on the David Letterman show. Somewhere around number three, you’ll see my cousin Jimmy stepping on a rake.

We are not, however, the only ones who do this. I asked around and found plenty of deaf people with similar stories. The possible causes of deafness are amazing: kicked by a horse, choked on a sandwich, swam without ear plugs, dug in too far with a Q-Tip, walked into a wall, sneezed too hard, and much more.

I do not intend to belittle any of the accidents or illnesses that actually have resulted in deafness for many people. We all know, for example, what spinal meningitis and rubella have done. There are also some medications that can cause deafness. And certainly, every now and then there’s a bona fide freak accident that defies explanation.

However, in looking for external causes of deafness, there are many of us who ignore a very obvious internal cause: genetics. More and more people are finding out that it wasn’t running into a tree, but a family tree that caused their deafness.

According to Gallaudet University’s Studies in Genetic Deafness, there are more than 400 types of hereditary deafness. More studies are being done to learn more about the genes involved. One of them, the connexin 26 gene, has already been identified.

Why haven’t more of us been open to this information in the past? I think it’s the negative stigma that comes with identifying genetic factors. It’s easier to blame something external for a hearing loss as opposed to admitting it came from within. Some people may say Oh, no! I have a genetic defect! and feel guilty for passing it on.

Personally, I would rather look at deafness as a trait, not a defect. And I would encourage you to check out the Gallaudet University website for more information (enter “Studies in Genetic Deafness” on the search engine and there you are). Fascinating stuff.

All right, that’s enough. I gotta go. I left the rake in the yard and need to get it out of there before anyone else goes deaf.

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