It was one of the coolest weddings I’ve ever attended, the reception turned into a lively celebration, I was doing the kind of dancing I do only after I’ve had way too many drinks, and my friend and I were catching our breath. We were talking about his kids and out of the blue he asked me: “So, where do you land on the question of nature or nurture?”
Ah yes, the old question. Which has more influence on behavior? Nature (the hardware) – your genes take care of that part of it. Nurture (the software) – that’s the job of parents, teachers and mentors. Which has greater influence? My brain had to shift gears away from the raucous music to consider it. But I knew where I stood on the issue, so it didn’t take me long to reply.
I shouted into his ear: “In my opinion, it’s neither nature nor nurture. It’s choice. Our genetic inheritance gives us our start-point, our potential and limitations. After that it’s about learning. Like a computer, we upload the software and the data. But ultimately, we’re not driven by either. We make choices. Kids make choices.”
“Choices? I never heard that answer before.”
“We’re different from animals because we can think, ponder and reflect before we act. It’s not just instinct, habit and stimulus-response. We can make conscious choices. We can decide what we want to do. You take Person A and Person B and you put both people in exactly the same situation, and they may not make the same choices. And their actions will have consequences.”
“Choice,” he repeated. He looked a little dazed. I’m pretty sure he had dispatched as many drinks as I had.
“We’re responsible for our actions. For what we learn. For what we do. For what we become. For our lives. You can’t account for a person’s actions by saying it’s something he’s born with, and you can’t say the world programmed him to do it. We choose to do what we do.”
I don’t remember all the details of that night, but I it seems to me my friend changed the subject.
The question he asked is an important one, and it’s worth discussing. But you don’t have to take my answer as the final word. Check out this brief video featuring author Stephen Covey.