King Edward VI School student Lauren O’Neill, age 16, asks: What really makes us who we are?
Nature or nurture? As we hurtle towards the time of year when many families spend more concentrated periods of time together, this question of what really makes us who we are comes into sharper focus. Did I really just say something which sounds like mum? How on earth can grandpa have such different views on life? I can’t wait to get back to my friends!
So where does the greatest influence lie?
The way we have been nurtured – everything we have experienced, everything we have learned from our parents from an early age – must have a huge influence on us, for a start.
From our parents, we get those early lessons about how to treat others and important social boundaries. What is right and wrong. But in an even more interconnected world, we are now all so much more influenced than previous generations, by poring over the minutiae of the lives of celebrities and others on social media. It is not just teachers and friends who we ‘meet’ in and out of the home. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all instant conduits for the views and values of a much wider range of people. Straight into our own lives.
How much does this all outweigh our natures? The traits passed down through genetic material direct from parents. Even if you are at the cutting edge of science and psychology, it’s a tangled and complicated web. Did that hard-working, high-achieving child in your class at school get like that because of something his parents did in the early years? Or were they just born with the material to make them ‘gifted and talented’? And if they were not, could being surrounded by hard-working, clever peers through school somehow counteract the nature part and nurture a new them?
Some children are fortunate enough to be born into an enriching home environment and then to be surrounded by focused individuals who take their education and future seriously. It just seems to rub off on them and they acquire the tools to get on in life. The flip-side of this, though, can be an easy argument that somehow, we are not responsible for our own happiness or success. It is the old joke, expounded by the kids in TV comedy Outnumbered: “Dad, I am either behaving like this because of my genes – which is your fault – or because of my upbringing – which is your fault. So, either way, my behaviour is your fault!”
Before you try that one with your own parents this Christmas, consider that it shows a high degree of self-awareness and points us towards the fact that really, we all need to be as responsible as we can for our own futures.
Yes, we are all dealt different hands in terms of our natures and how we are nurtured, but ultimately, we have more power than anyone else to affect our own day to day lives from hereon in. There are plenty of examples of people who are surrounded by those with a relaxed, even lax, approach, who strive to do better.