Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nature AND Nurture

With the passing of Steve Jobs, the conversation about nature versus nurture has been running through the media and blogosphere.  Facebook was peppered with the status “Born out of wedlock, put up for adoption at birth, dropped out of college, then changed the world.  What’s your excuse?”  MomsMiami blogger Momma Sass questioned in her informative post Steve Jobs: Born that Way?Did Steve Jobs get his personality, intelligence, creativity, ambitiousness, egomania and risk-taking from his birth parents, whom he never knew growing up?  It’s entirely possible.”

The Facebook status means to say that Steve Jobs accommplished so much having faced such big things so early;  however, the phrases used feel so outdated and almost mythical.  Doesn’t being “born out of wedlock” sound archaic, like the word ‘bastard’ should be thrown into the mix somewhere?  The phrase “put up for adoption at birth” implies abandonment (and abandonment  when one is most vulnerable at birth).  Steve Jobs’ biological mother did not abandon him.  He was so clearly loved.  Both phrases also sound as if they are handicaps.  Not everyone experiences adoption, AND adoption is not a handicap.  Both phrases label a child for the decisions and actions of adults.  They then place life limitations on a child that are just not true.  I am sure Steve Jobs could have written an app for these misconceptions.  Actually, his life kind of did.   

Everyone who was adopted has two sets parents who contribute to their life.  The concept to wrap our heads around is that this is both OK and normal.  With that said, isn’t it time to view this as nature AND nurture?  The two are not in competition against one another.  They are in cooperation with one another.

Louann Brizendine, in her review of David Shenk’s new book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve been Told about Genetics, Talent and IQ is Wrong, says, “Shenk beautifully explains why the nature-nurture debate is dead. It is not just the genes we are born with, but how we are raised and what opportunities are open to us that determine how smart we will become. Nurture and experience reshape our genes, and thus our brain. Shenk argues that the idea we are either born with genius or talent, or we aren’t, is simply untrue. The notion that relentless, deliberate practice changes the brain and thus our abilities has been undervalued over the past 30 years in favor of the concept of “innate giftedness.” Practice, practice, practice (some say 10,000 hours or more) is what it takes. Shenk argues that it is just some fantasy that effortless, gifted genius is born and not made. He marshals evidence to show that genetic factors do not trump environmental factors but rather work in concert with them. [Success is] not just in your genes, he says, but in the intensity of your motivation. Ambition, persistence, and self-discipline are not just products of genes, but can be shaped by nurture and environment. Certainly it is important to have good genes, but that determines at most only 50 percent of your talent. He underscores the point that intelligence is made up of the skills that a person has developed – with an emphasis on “developed” – through hard work. Encouraging ourselves and our children to work hard requires being surrounded by others also wanting to achieve striving for excellence.”  Sounds like Steve Jobs’ parents, his friends and all of the people he surrounded himself with at Apple.

One of the most powerful statements that I’ve ever read on this issue was made by Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book Parenting from the Inside Out.  Dr. Siegel writes, “Genes determine much of how neurons link up with each other, but equally important is that experience activates genes to influence this linkage process.  It is unhelpful to pit these interdependent processes against each other in simplistic debates such as experience versus biology, or nature versus nurture.  In fact, experience shapes brain structure.  Experience is biology.  How we treat our children influences who they are and how they will develop.  Their brains need our parental involvement.  Nature needs nurture.”

Siegel continues, “Parents are the active sculptors of their children’s growing brains.  The immature brain of the child is so sensitive to social experience that adoptive parents should in fact also be called the biological parents because the family experiences they create shape the biological structure of their child’s brain.”  

Momma Sass beautifully concludes, “A child may be born with the “genetics” to be a great inventor, but if he never comes in contact with the right tools, he’ll never fulfill his gift.  In the end, maybe it took two sets of parents to make someone like Steve Jobs.” 

Two sets of parents did contribute to Steve Jobs, and he so beautifully authored his own life.

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