Nature and nurture. It’s funny how two words that vary so drastically in meaning can sound so similar. Nurture. To me, this word evokes feelings of warmth and passion, like how a hand molds a piece of clay. This hand could mold it firmly and harshly, or it could mold it softly, delicately. After the clay is set, however, and is rock hard, is when you can tell how the hands formed it. You can see the qualities, the characteristics, engrained so permanently into it. Each mark a different story. Nature, on the other hand, is like metal being cast. A predetermined shape that dictates how that piece of metal will be in the future, no opportunity for change. Solid, set, unwavering, no other choice for any other characteristics to be changed from this mold. These two words have made my mind ponder the question, “Are our characteristics, and by extension who we are as people, determined by nature or nurture?”. In other words, is it our biology that defines our characteristics, or is it our experiences? Research has suggested that while both are vital factors in determining traits, genetics are more dominant between the two. Although these studies are backed by science, I can’t help but disagree. Although many studies show that characteristics are mainly genetic, I believe that what makes us humans is not the predetermined cast of genetics, but the experiences and people that have shaped us.
History has shown that people have used the idea of genetic determinism to push their agendas and remain in power. For example, in feudal Japan, honor was tied so closely to society. This resulted in a strict separation of the classes that made it extremely difficult to move from class to class, as well as to form the essential human connection of love. The film Seven Samurai shows this idea of characteristics and rank in society based on birth. Throughout the movie, the separation between samurai and villagers is clear. The forbidden romance between a samurai and a villager illustrates this rift. The rift goes as far as a distinction even after winning a battle fought together, “Only the farmers won the battle.” Even after winning together, the samurai still see each other as separate from the farmers. Class and birth rank were critical to this society- “Good thing I wasn’t born a peasant. Better to be born a dog. God damn it. Go ahead, hang yourself and die! You’re better off dead”. This system exemplifies why it is so incorrect that characteristics and identity are based solely on nature. If who we are is based on just nature, we would never have the opportunity to become anything other than what we were “supposed” to be.
If our humanity were discerned by nurture, however, it would mean that we as humans have unlimited potential as to what we can become. Tabula Rasa, a philosophy crafted by John Locke, states that humans are born a “blank slate” with no prior knowledge. He argued that experience and environment are what molded our identities. This idea implies a sense of hope that humans have the potential to change and are not forced to be something out of our control. The novel Siddhartha states, “I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child. Nothing is mine. I know nothing I possess nothing, I have learned nothing.” This quote illustrates perfectly the ideas of Tabula Rasa. The thought that when people are born, their minds are fresh, malleable, clear of any prior shape, and soft to mold, possessing nothing. Under this philosophy, humans are not trapped by the chains of a pretense, but instead, remain open to the endless possibilities of change. We are born empty, and our experiences define us.
But, why does this matter? The concept of people being molded by their surroundings allows people to take a step back and not judge as harshly. Instead of critiquing who someone is, it is possible that we can take a step back and rather judge the events that led up to someone becoming the person. It gives us a level of understanding of why people are the way they are. For example, in World War II, the Nazi party had a Youth Program that molded kids from a young age to be filled with hate and loyalty to the Nazi party. Since people are based on their circumstances, it shows that bad people were not necessarily born evil, but instead made into bad people by external forces. By no means am I saying what the youth did was acceptable. I am only stating that their decisions cannot be blamed entirely on them being bad people, but the events that transformed them. Therefore, be it good or bad, we are defined by the actions and situations we have been put through. Although this power of nurture may not always be a positive force in our lives, it is still crucial because it gives us hope that we can be more than what we were destined to be. After all, “Our scars can destroy us. Even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we can survive them, they can transform us. They can give us the power to endure, and the strength to fight.”