Nurture is one of those words seldom used and yet envied by all at some point in their lives. Although they both come from the same Latin root word, “natura”, nature and nurture have seemingly been at odds since the late nineteenth century. I think this fact to be sad and perhaps one of the root causes of the problems we face today.
“Natura” as a Latin word referred to not just the natural way of the things but that which exists from birth forward. A form of the Latin word “natus” which means birth, “natura” was used in the context of all things in the universe which were a part of the natural order of things. It referenced one’s natural character, both of humans but also of the universe itself. The innate disposition of all of creation was thought to be one of a nurturing disposition. Somehow, with all of man and womankind’s advancements, we seem to have forgotten that one fact.
There is great debate on the topic of nature versus nurture but, for me, the best discussion comes not from psychologists and sociologists but from a faction author, the entertaining and seldom-considered overly deep Mark Twain. “When we set about accounting for a Napoleon or a Shakespeare or a Raphael or a Wagner or an Edison or other extraordinary person, we understand that the measure of his talent will not explain the whole result, nor even the largest part of it; no, it is the atmosphere in which the talent was cradled that explains; it is the training it received while it grew, the nurture it got from reading, study, example, the encouragement it gathered from self-recognition and recognition from the outside at each stage of its development: when we know all these details, then we know why the man was ready when his opportunity came.”
The environment we create and decide to plant ourselves in determines a great deal about us, not only who we are but our hopes and aspirations. Suzy Kassem explains it most succinctly: “Empathy nurtures wisdom. Apathy cultivates ignorance.” We may inherit a certain amount of DNA from our heritage but we alone control our future, in spite of whatever circumstances to which we were born.
“While genes are pivotal in establishing some aspects of emotionality, experience plays a central role in turning genes on and off. DNA is not the heart’s destiny; the genetic lottery may determine the cards in your deck, but experience deals the hand you can play. Scientists have proven, for example, that good mothering can override a disadvantageous temperament,” maintains Thomas Lewis, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California in San Francisco. I think those of days gone past knew something when they made nature and nurture from the same word. What if we lived as if they were truly the same thing?
If we lived in this natural world and considered to the need to nurture each other just as important as sharing the air we breathe, if nurturing became a natural order of our living in our relationships with each other, what type of world would we create? If when we opened our mouths, what might result if we did so with the intention of only uttering that which would nurture our audience and not alienate or judge? Would we perish from the effort or would we reap a more beautiful, productive world without the need for alienation and terrorism?