Beyond 'Nature or Nurture?'
Posted by Simon Parke, 21 May 2019, 6.10am
I’m in favour of awareness because of the hope it brings, but I start with an often-asked question:
‘Are we the result of nature or nurture?’
The answer, of course, is that it is not either/or.
There will be some predispositions from your genetic formation, most particularly physical. Two parents over six foot will tend to have tall children.
(Clearly mine weren’t.)
But no gene has ever been shown to carry an emotion or feeling from one generation to the next.
A parent recently told their child, ‘Depression runs in the family. Just take the medication.’
But this is a myth for which there is no scientific evidence. There is no evidence for depression running in the family through our genes - only through the quality of the nurture offered.
What’s more truthful is that parenting models are often passed down through families. But this is behaviour, not genes.
From our earliest formation in the womb, through to our early years, our brain is responding to external stimuli, to external behaviours, for good or for ill.
The neuro-scientist Doug Watts calls them the ‘unrememberable but unforgettable years’. We can’t usually access them through memory. But they live still in our bodies, unforgotten in the hard-wiring of our brain.
So in relation to our feelings, we are not a product of history, but a present adventure.
And as we grow, the plasticity of the brain, now a well-established truth, means that even our childhood experiences are not the end of the story.
These experiences are powerful and life-shaping. We will not change everything; and some will struggle more than others. The degree of damage in humans varies.
But neither our genes nor the early hard-wiring of the brain need be a prison.
The plasticity of the brain, the evidence for neuro-genesis, ensures we are not machines in the traditional sense; not a clock set to tick in some pre-determined manner until we stop ticking.
Our brain is open to adjustment, to response and to change. Old hard-wiring can be mended; new neural pathways made, fresh tracks made through the forest.
As I say, we are an adventure.
This is challenging, of course. It asks a response from us. We cannot comfortably hide behind determinism or the failings of others.
But more than challenging, it is hopeful. There are things we can do. Life can be better. It won’t be perfect, but it can be better - our decisions, our habits and our mind sets.
And awareness is the start: to live in our bodies with more awareness of our responses is helpful, and often life-changing.
We notice not only the decisions we take, but also our reasons for taking them, which often reveals unacknowledged and now inappropriate fears.
These repeated decisions form our habits; and our habits, through the brain’s plasticity, shape the mind set we bring to the world.
If we are to be kind to ourselves and the world, we best be aware of these things.
Would you like to be more mindful, more resilient, more emotionally attuned?
Would you like to be less self-punishing, less full of shame, more free?
Would you like to live more happily in your own skin and therefore punish others less?
Then, in a way that is possible for you, seek the healing qualities of kind awareness.
Kind awareness shines a gentle light on our inscape; and what we can see, we can begin to change.
‘The observer changes the observed.’
You are not a given…you are an adventure.