The inspiration for this article came from a discussion I had with a close relative of mine. To place the conversation into context I need to give you some back ground while keeping names and actual relationships out of the text. So this relative of mine, we will call her Jane, has two grown children we will call Sally and Sam, both over 30 years in age. Both Sally and Sam have children of their, Sally is in college and works full time to support herself and her children. Sam on the other hand never really did much in the way of continuing education after high school and never really held a full time job. He and his 3 kids live in his mother’s house and it is his mother and father who bare most of the cost for most of the living expenses for all of them. Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone?
During our discussion I learned that Sam’s ex-wife had told Sam that it was his mother’s fault that Sam never attempted to further his education nor ever really put any serious effort in finding a real job. She told Sam that the way his mother raised him and the way she makes his life too comfortable for Sam is the reason he never really tried to change his life. To say the least, Jane took just a little bit more than a small exception to the statement, but is there any truth to what Sam’s ex-wife is saying?
This brings up three old arguments, old at least from my point of view because I have heard them in my home all my life. The first is Nature vs. Nurture, next would be Help vs. Enabling, and last being where to draw the “Line of Responsibility”. Unfortunately to cover all three adequately will need to break this into three parts. I also encourage you to visit us at DragonTamers.com for further details and discussions.
As much as I care and respect Jane, I have to say that there IS some truth to Sam’s ex-wife’s claim, but only some.
In part one I am going to focus on Nature vs. Nurture. Basically the debate discusses why a person grows into the adult they become, is it enviable because we are a result of our genetics (Nature), or is it a result of the environment we grew up in (Nurture)? The basis of those favoring the side of environmental was a concept called the Blank Slate Theory. In this theory every child born is a “Blank Slate” with no predispositions toward any type of behavior. This theory subscribes to the concept that if you control a child’s environment, what they are taught, what they are exposed to from the outside world, and even what behavior from their parents they are allowed to see, then one can shape the person that child will grow up to be. The hard liners of the Nurture argument indicate that if a child grows up to be a noble prize winner or serial killer is direct result of how they were raised.
On the Nature side of this argument, it is believed that all folks are born with a genetic predisposition toward a certain personality, usually a blending of elements from the personalities of the members of the genetic line that the individual inherited. That would be parents, grand-parents, etc… The hard liners of the Nature argument basically indicate that who a child becomes when they reach adulthood is already hard coded into their genetics and would be evitable despite the factors in a person childhood.
At DragonTamers, we believe that both arguments are valid to a certain extent, with the strongest influences being those of nature. However I must point out that one factor not accounted for in this argument is Choice or the free will of every individual.
Science has long ago proven that the “Blank Slate” does not exist. There are many studies that prove a strong genetic influence in who a person becomes. Some examples are studies showing how identical twins separated at birth tend two grow up having very similar lives. This occurs even when the twins are raised without contact with each other and in families with very different family values. These identical twins more often than not make the same or very similar career choices, like the same foods, even end up marrying (or not) someone very similar in both personality and appearance to the other. Other studies have shown how sons who grew up never meeting their natural father will often display personality traits and world views much more in common with their biological fathers, then the men who raised them.
At this point science is seemingly on the Nature Side of the argument, but as they say, “that ain’t all she wrote”. Science has also shown clear evidence for the influence of Nurturing. The FBI for example has shown that they can prove that most serial killers do have a history in common of being sexual abused (a broad definition that includes age inappropriate sexual contact with an adult), even if in the minds of the killers they were not being abused at the time.
Certainly the FBI studies are the extreme end of spectrum, but much closer to home I used to work with a fellow who belonged to a particular religious sect. This group leveraged the state laws on home schooling to pull of all the kids of the sect member families from the school system. These kids would then under the guise home schooling attend a NON-Sanctioned religious based school. The information and concepts that children were allowed to be exposed to was very limited to just what they had in the school. They didn’t have TV, Internet, or radio at the homes. These kids were only allowed to associate with the kids from the families of the sect. While I was shocked to hear his description, I had the presence of mind to ask him a few questions on how he handled this. The first was that didn’t home schooled kids still need to pass the standard states tests. He then told me that they wait until about a year out from the tests to “prep” the kids with the questions. By then the kids have been comfortable with the “truth” long enough not be confused by the heresy the test prep exposed them to.
What my friend and his school were doing was taking advantage of a well-documented phenomenon that we at Dragon Tamers call the “Just Is”; in a nutshell this is where young minds accept what they are exposed to as truth without need of evidence or convincing. Studies show that concepts and beliefs formed during this time of a person’s life tend to be retained as truth, even after the individual is exposed to overwhelming evidence contradicting these “truths”. So it would seem science also supports the nurture side of the argument.