Tag Archive: nature vs nurture


Vol2_Col3_countering-media-influenceAmanda Todd. Canadian. 15 years old. Dead. Another bullied, angst-ridden, self-abusing depressed teen to add to the list of those whose lives were cut too short. In a word: tragic.

Upon release of the news, discourse from concerned parents relating to the risks of social media use and the increasing need for “internet policing” abounded. While these concerns are most surely valid, Todd’s suicide is not merely an indication that bullying in the 2000s has escalated to a new level that we, as a society, have yet to come to grips with. Greater than this, is what lies at the deeper root of the problem: the motivations behind the very actions of Todd that served as the impetus to her “cyber-bullying” conundrum.

“Why”, we should be asking ourselves, “would anyone go to such an extent to seek validation from a complete stranger in regard to their physicality?” What does this say about what we’re teaching our youth? More importantly, what does this say about our societal standards for appearances and sexuality and the high value we seemingly place on both?

While a debate on consumerism and its mandate to make us all feel inadequate so that we buy more and more items to fulfill the very voids it leads us to believe we possess would prove illustrative, again I’d like to delve deeper to get at the origin of why “industry” seems to have such a hold on us…well at least some of us, that is.

Now I’m sure all of you are at least superficially familiar with the pervasive “nature vs. nurture” debate. Further, I’m sure you’ve all heard that the current consensus in social science academic circles is that both elements are said to influence us relatively equally throughout our initial stages of socialization. In other words, it’s not simply WHAT we’re born with (ie: our DNA/inherited genes) nor WHERE/HOW we’re raised (ie: our environments). But instead, it’s how these two factors work together symbiotically that make us into the individuals we become. Allow me to explain more in-depth:

Let’s say there was a child who was born with an above average IQ “potential” (ie: nature). Due to unfortunate financial circumstances however, he was raised in a ghettoized neighbourhood where he attended primary and secondary schools that lacked guidance counsellors, extra-curricular activities and additional support resources.

His parents both worked multiple jobs that just barely allowed them to cover the household expenses; accordingly, they were frequently exhausted when they got home at the end of the day. As a consequence, the little boy was commonly alone without positive adult supervision. Moreover, even when his parents were physically present, he likely was not receiving the support, love and guidance he required from them.

While this child started life out with the “potential” (ie: nature) to achieve strong grades that could lead to a university education and an associated higher end career, because of his environmental upbringing (ie: nurture), he was never able to fully flourish.

At this point it is worth clarifying that the term “environment” as defined in the nature vs. nurture paradigm encompasses far more than just the tangible physical spaces one occupies throughout his/her life. As the above example demonstrates, one’s environment too consists of the people with whom we interact, the kinds of interactions that take place and the messages we receive. Whether our interactions are direct (ie: someone speaking with us in person), indirect (ie: receiving information from a tv commercial), one-way (ie: a lecture), reciprocal (ie: a conversation between friends), verbal (ie: someone saying they love you) or nonverbal (ie: someone giving you a hug after a bad day) is irrelevant – ALL of these modes of communication can and will influence you, if you allow them to. That my friends is the key: the concept of “agency”: the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

Now, as you reach adolescence, the impact of “nurture”, especially as it pertains to social and media influences, shifts into high gear. The cause? Quite simply the fact that this is the first time in your life you truly get a chance to establish your own sense of identity! Part and parcel to this process, of course, is a pressing desire to rebel from all sources of authority, particularly that of your parents and their belief systems (Ah we have so much to look forward to when we become parents ourselves!)

In other words, as you reach this age, you become psychologically “primed” to pay close(r) attention to messages that relate to concepts of “self-expression”, “self-discovery” and “self-fulfillment” given that these topics are particularly relevant to the pressures you are experiencing in regard to “making something of yourself” and/or “finding out who you are” and “what cliché you belong in.” Wouldn’t you know it? These are the VERY SAME concepts that so many advertisements and media images try to sell us!

In reference to females specifically, the media teaches our girls that being “beautiful”, “sexy”, “desirable”, “attractive”, “sexual” and so forth are the NUMBER ONE KEYS to success, independence and confidence (Don’t get me started on the equally disturbing and damaging messages that we indoctrinate onto our boys). With all of this in mind, what I’m getting at is that it’s easy to see why young adults oftentimes find themselves falling into the “wrong” crowds and/or participating in questionable popularity/validation-seeking behaviours that may come back to bite them in the ass as was the case with Todd. No disrespect intended.

When we become adults, the hope is that we’ve grown past this stage and have a fairly strongly established sense of personal agency. For those of us born with more “follower-oriented” personality types, do not fear, agency and self-assertiveness can be taught and developed. There will, of course, always be “structures” to contend with in life that will limit our choices to a certain extent (ie: social class, religion, ethnicity, legislation, gender etc.) HOWEVER, in NO logical way that I can consider do said structures play a role in whether you allow yourself to buy into much of the advertised b.s. messages that are out there. Moreover, these structures also do NOT in any way prevent you from ditching people in your life that really only bring you down. The only thing that prevents either is an UNWILLINGNESS to practise introspection and “rational choice”. YOU are empowered with the choice to select when it’s worth your while to “tune in” and when you should quite frankly just “tune out.”

Rational (albeit mature) people, when presented with new information/messages, make the decision whether to incorporate or discard said information/messages based on a cost/benefit analysis. With this in mind, the next time you find yourself in a situation pondering whether you should allow yourself to be influenced (because remember it is a CHOICE), you need to ask yourself the following:

1) How can this information/influence help me in regard to my life, my goals, my dreams?

2) How can this information/influence hinder me in regard to my life, my goals, my dreams?

3) How would those significant in my life (ie: parents, friends, peers, teachers, spiritual advisors etc.) feel about this information/influence? Why do you think they’d feel that way?

4) Would my life be missing something valuable if I chose not to accept this information/influence?

5) Is this information/influence something I’d be comfortable passing onto others? If not, why?

Unfortunately in Todd’s tragic case, the life has already been lost. In your own and those of your future children however, you can make a difference. Teaching “(social) media savvy” isn’t enough. Negative influences can and will impact your life through a variety of sources. What needs to be taught more importantly is how to recognize these influences for what they are and how to make the “rational choice” not to allow oneself to get sucked in.

Finale_AttitudeOne of the greatest and most longstanding scientific debates revolves around human socialization and how much we can attribute to nature versus nurture. In other words, are we born with pre-existing dispositions to certain kinds of behaviours, attitudes and actions based on our genetic code/evolutionary past? OR are we purely determined by the environment(s) in which we’re raised? If a combination of both, what role do one’s peers, parents and other social influences, such as the media, play in terms of bringing out or repressing certain hardwired traits? Interestingly, the very same questions can be asked when it comes to the realm of psychological maturity.

Are some inherently born with characteristics more in line with psychological maturity? OR does everyone come to the table with the same capacity for developing psychological maturity but one’s experiences (and how one learns from and copes with them) determine if/when said attitude is embraced? Further, how much should one allow him/herself to be influenced by factors outside of the self (ie: externalization) versus listening to one’s brains (ie: remember there’s one in your head AND one in your gut)?

I’m afraid there are no easy answers to any of the above queries and in fact part of your journey to establishing (and maintaining) a psychologically mature perspective may just consist of you attempting to find solutions 😉 The point in doing so however would NOT be to come up with definitive “end results”, but instead to evaluate and analyze the process that took you there.

Yes, once again, my friends, it all comes back to introspection: asking yourself what makes you tick and understanding why/how it all comes together. As I said in my very first column, if any of your self-contemplations result in superficial because “you’ve been told to” or “that’s just how it’s always been” types of answers, you’re NOT digging deep enough. EVERYTHING, no matter how seemingly mundane, has meaning and motive behind it. Don’t forget that. Equally important to remember is the fact that no one enters your life unscathed or without baggage of some sort trailing behind. So, if you find yourself feeling threatened by another, instead of lashing out, ask yourself why – it’ll serve you much better and help you become a much more considerate, empathetic individual; something I think we all should strive to be.

Even those of you who’ve been practising the principles I’ve discussed this past year for a long time including: minimizing defensive reactions and focussing on long-term gratification, among others, I’m sure, still find yourselves in situations with individuals who are “difficult” to say the least. You’ll come to realize that the biggest dilemma you’ll ultimately face in life is the fact that just because you’re reasonable and willing to deal with situations in an “adult” manner, doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else is singing from the same songbook…if you get my drift. Not to quote myself unnecessarily but the truth of the matter is that “some people are just content being assholes;” this obviously proves particularly contentious when said individuals are a necessary evil in your life (ie: stepparents and/or monsters-in-law). Of course, this brings me to the topic of stress; something else we’ve thoroughly discussed.

While some stress can be helpful and motivating, too much can lead to emotional overload and/or self-implosion. Life is all about balance and honestly acknowledging your limitations. There’s no cowardice or shame in admitting when you need help or a break. Confidence and a “can do” attitude will get you far, but too much pride is just another issue waiting to bite you in the ass.

As we revealed in our dissections of many pathological “personality types” such as: the “people pleaser”, “egoist”, “pessimist” and “hypocrite”, insecurity as well as a lack of gratitude appear to be two common root causes. Considering we live in one of the most privileged areas of the globe, it’s hard to think as to why the latter would be the case at all. Priorities people! As for the former? Well no two people’s situations are alike, but it seems to me that bullying (by BOTH authority figures and peers) along with the promotion of unattainable social ideals of what define “happiness”, “success” and “beauty” are a serious part of the problem.

In the end, everything comes down to one simple, hard and fast question: Are YOU happy? If you are, take stock of all of the wonderful reasons why, never take such things for granted and be sure to acknowledge all of those who’ve/who continue to contribute joy to your existence. If you’re conflicted, dissatisfied, stressed, sad or angry more often than you think you SHOULD be/more than you WANT to be, it’s time to seriously start asking yourself some deep questions: Who am I? Why am I this kind of individual? Who do I want to be? What do I want in life? What do I need to get there? What drives me? What discourages me? Who/what supports me? Who/what stands in my way? Only YOU can ask and only YOU can answer.

I’m sorry to say there are no magical solutions or 10-step instructional manuals outlining how one can obtain a life in which they’re “living” rather than simply “existing”. While many individuals will enter and exit your life as your journey unravels (for the better and sometimes for the worse), remember it’s ultimately YOUR life – you need to look out for YOURSELF first and foremost – and that YOU have the power to lead the kind of life you desire. It’s all about your ATTITUDE, so, in closing, get out your wrenches and start adjusting.