Three tools for personal development
Lotus eaters and Myrmidons

The nature nurture debate

A perennial and favourite discussion topic is the nature-nurture debate. Are values and morals learnt or do we inherit them? Do we instinctively know right from wrong or is this down to conditioning of childhood?

A friend of mine recently had a debate with their partner and discovered they had very different views: one, thinking that all beliefs and values come down to one’s upbringing and surroundings. The other, thinking that whilst 'upbringing' is a contributory factor, there were people they knew who’d had a very unhealthy moral upbringing, but seemed to instinctively know right from wrong from an early age.

I was asked my view.

Of course I am not an expert on this and anyway the research (read: answer) keeps changing. Before giving my view, however, one needs to understand a number of issues around it. For a start, this isn’t really a scientific question – people want to provide evidence largely for a belief they already have; in others words, beliefs drive the answer. The reason for this is that the question touches on the question of what it means to be human.

Put another way: animals always remain in their own state of being; human beings are always in a state of becoming. The most obvious proof of this is: animals can only live in their environment; humans create their environment – in fact, very few humans live in an environment that is as ‘nature’ intended. Moreover, the nature of being human touches on deep philosophical and spiritual questions.

 Simplistically, those who believe that human beings are entirely products of nature will tend to be deterministic and fatalistic in outlook – leading to a victim mentality because ‘that’s just the way it is’. On the other hand, those who are think human beings are products of nurture will tend to idolise humanity itself – anything is possible, you can be whatever you want, there are no limits. Put another way, ‘nature’ enthusiasts will tend to be more accepting, passive and conservative, whereas ‘nurture’ believers will stray towards more active, aggressive and liberal positions.

 So what we think on this spectrum will start reflecting profounder issues of our nature.

As Chinese philosophy observed long ago: there cannot be yang without yin, and vice versa. So I believe the correct answer is both, but not in equal proportions: we are about 30% the product of our natures and about 70% the product of our nurture or environment.

Of course in any given individual this can fluctuate. But just as human beings can profoundly affect their environment, so they can profoundly affect their internal environment of the self and its body. In one word, the biggest single factor that will impact your being and change it is belief. What we believe we ultimately become, and the reason for this is that the actual foundation of the universe is consciousness itself.


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