You may have heard of a continuous debate in human development between nature and nurture. Do we become who we are because of our nature or because of the way we are nurtured? It’s much like that philosophical question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Here’s my short answer: Our nature determines what kind of nurturing we will respond to.
What Was in Your Environment?
If you live in Indiana like I do then there’s a good chance that nagging, criticism, bribing, punishments (like time out and spanking), and even some mild threatening were a big part of your environment.
Think of yourself as a plant. Your home, school, and church or community are the soil you’re planted in.
“But wait, could a simple plant really be as complex as me?!”
Hold that thought…I’m not saying you’re exactly the same, but there are some similarities. The plant does not discriminate. It absorbs everything it can from the environment, no matter how much the gardener may try to prevent it.
We are similar. We are organisms that absorb everything that we can, whether it is beneficial or to our detriment.
When you’re criticized, you absorb it. When you’re punished, you absorb it. When you’re treated with respect, you absorb it. And so on. This same principle could probably explain why a weed killer actually works. If plants could just choose not to absorb something then your spray would have no impact.
Which People Will You Gravitate Toward?
A great majority of people will gravitate toward a person who is supportive, encouraging, accepting, and respectful. If a picture of your own parents just popped in your head then there’s a good chance that you have a solid relationship with them and you will take quite a bit of their advice.
Those same people will try to put distance between them and people who are critical, nagging, threatening, and controlling. Most often these are people of authority, like our bosses, parents, and school teachers. You can often find these qualities in a partner because a romantic relationship can be one where a person will adopt a sense of ownership over you. This really hurts romantic relationships by the way.
You gravitate toward people who are kind. You gravitate toward people that you feel good around. That’s why we often gravitate toward our friends as we get older. Our friends are rarely critical and nagging. They rarely use punishments or bribes to change our behavior.
The roots of a plant grow toward nutrients and a clean water source…but not all plants can find it.
Why do some people struggle to become healthy adults? There may not be enough clean water and nutrients in their soil. If they persist, they will find clean water but their roots have to dig deep. Many settle for the place they were planted and suffer through the consequences of feeding on polluted water.
Imagine a Different Kind of Teacher
You’re a junior in high school. You’ve struggled the last few years and your parents have decided to enroll you in a new school. You didn’t like your last school but you also don’t really like change so you’re a little apprehensive.
You drag your feet into this new school and she greets you, I’ll use my own name here, and we’ll pretend this is how the conversation goes:
Kristen: Good morning Philip, it’s great to finally meet you. I’ve been able to talk to your parents several times while they were considering our school. Do you know anything about our school yet?
Philip: Not really. I heard you have a place where I can play games though.
Kristen: Yes, we do. It’s not very active right now because most of the students have decided to do other things. Would you like to see it?
How are you feeling so far? What do you think of this teacher? What do you think of this environment? Games at a school? What’s the catch?!
Kristen: Here’s the game room. A few of our students got into retro gaming so we have an Atari and a Commodore 60 with some games on them but we also have a new PC with a few games on there.
Philip: (a little excited) What do I have to do to play?
Kristen: What do you mean?
Philip: Um, like do I have to complete a bunch of assignments to be able to use it or something?
Kristen: (laughing a little under her breath) Um, no. The games are available any time you want.
Another student walks in and says hi to Kristen and gives her a hug. Kristen introduces you to Ashley and then asks her what she’s up to.
Ashley: I was thinking I might play some games.
Kristen: (to you) Do you want to stay in here with Ashley or you want to see the rest of the school.
Philip: (You’re not really sure what to say. You really want to just play but you feel like you’re supposed to take the tour to make a good impression) Um, I don’t know.
Kristen: Well, I’ll let you decide. Ashley has been coming to this school for two years now so she can show you around when you’re ready.
Ashley: (Excitedly) Have you ever played on Atari before?! It’s so crazy. You wanna play me?
Philip: Um, yeah, sure. Then we can look at the rest of the school?
Ashley: Sure…you’re gonna love it here. Everyone is so nice. It’s nothing like my old school.
How Do You Feel?
Is this the kind of environment you’d like to grow in?
Do you feel drawn in to this place?
Is it better than the soil you’re currently planted in?
You Still Have a Choice
None of us can choose the soil we are planted into. We can’t choose the chemicals that our roots absorb, but we can choose how we respond.
William Glasser wrote, “The only thing you can give someone is information.” Criticism, blame, nagging, threatening, punishing, and bribing is just information. No one can MAKE you do something.
While you’re young your options may be somewhat limited, but you get to choose. Will you grow your roots deep to find fresh water? Or will you absorb the toxins around you and struggle to grow?
Your environment impacts you a lot, but unlike plants you have the ability to uproot yourself and plant yourself in new soil.
I wish you luck. It is not easy, but it is worth it.