Nature or Nurture

My previous blog post, Schism, got me thinking about human behaviour. You know, just for a change. In particular how we tend to use blanket terminology to describe behaviour that often we don’t fully comprehend in people. In particular the term, “human nature”. It got me thinking about what exactly is natural within a human? How much of our behaviour is written into our genetic code, and how much is written in through our life’s learning through experience? Strictly speaking, can that learning through experience really be considered natural, or should it be considered as something else such as the nurturing or shaping of personality via external factors?

I got to thinking about babies, and how pretty well researched their behaviour is; even pre birth. We’ve learned a lot about how they develop and of how that development can be affected, both positively and negatively. We’ve learned how important the first few years of life can be for the development of mind and personality.

When I first began to consider the method of personal development I wanted to do, way back in the late 1960s, I decided to look into where it had come from. Information was harder to come by back then, (now we just Google it!) and it was even harder to verify it’s sources.

One thing that cropped up a lot was something of an urban legend that circulated through the groups and classes. A story of how someone was asked to take in and look after a person who had had some sort of a breakdown. A breakdown that had resulted in them being quite shut down and uncommunicative. As they had taken them into their home, they were able to observe their behaviour close up. One of the first things they noticed was that they could burst into tears quite randomly for apparently no reason that anyone could fathom. Over time though, they also noticed that the tearfulness episodes became fewer and further apart and that their general demeanour and behaviour seemed to improve.

This person eventually got to the point where they were well enough that they were able to leave and get on with their life. The people who looked after them became curious about what was going on here. Was what they had witnessed some sort of healing process for the individual? Could this be replicated in some way; so that they could learn more about it? A decision was made to do further research, using themselves as guinea pigs. Eventually, over a number of years, enough observational data was collected for them to arrive at some conclusions about the true difference between nature and nurture in humans.

A key conclusion was that the innate nature of people, the one they were born with, was pretty good. That individuals were cooperative, creative, intelligent, loving and caring. These traits were assumed to be written into human DNA. Where things went wrong, it was concluded, was in the nurture side of human development; particularly after birth. Now the word nurture is something of a loaded one. It’s meaning is expressed as something positive. But if it is used as an expression of assisting development, then it’s useful to keep in mind that some aspects of development can also have a negative affect.

The theory put forward was, that although the innate nature of people was deemed to be fundamentally good, that nature was vulnerable to damage post birth. Put simply, we can be hurt. We can not only be hurt physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. These hurts can be installed by accident or by some form of social contagion. The good news was, that just as our body can heal physically, we also had the ability to heal emotionally and psychologically. Given the opportunity, this healing process would happen spontaneously. The outward sign of this healing was the release of painful feelings; what we observe as crying (for grief), raging (for anger) and shaking or trembling (for fear).

So it seems to me that schism in human groups, in this theoretical model, has little to do with the true nature of humans; since that loving cooperative stuff in our DNA would cancel it out. Solutions for better communication and understanding would be found. Schism must arise from the damage laid in over individual life spans. Damage that distorts and blocks rational thinking and preventing the individual from seeing the options for cooperation at their disposal.

Now this raises another question for me. Which is, how come the two groups mentioned in my previous blog post on Schism, who each had the same skill base for resolving conflict, did not apply that skill base to resolving their differences? I’m wondering if each group shares a common blind spot that prevents them from seeing not only where their own thinking is blocked, but where the other group may be struggling also.

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