Nature, nurture, personality and free will.

Back in my psychi days when I were a young lass, we constantly had a debate around the nature versus nurture aspects of mental illness. How much of a person’s experience of say schizophrenia was really nature; that is the chemical imbalances in the brain, and how much was nurture; that is how they had been taught to behave and react in their upbringing.

I don’t think the debate was ever settled. Various theories like the selfish gene thing came and went and still nothing explained how it is that people end up the way they do.

Personality traits and how they effect the way we behave and learn have also been investigated, enneagrammed and generally boxed but we are still left with a head scratching “Why?” question over the way some people turn out.

One area that I think gets sidelined too much is free will. We are free beings with choices we can all make no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. Concupiscence is really just a posh word to say we all have tendencies to unhealthy attitudes and behaviour that we have to overcome. For some it is what is labelled ‘addictive personality’ for others it may be tendency to cynicism (my struggle) and to others it might be hoarding (greed) the wish to control others. But while we have these tendencies we are also self aware as humans and so have the tools to fight them.

If we accept as part of universal human understanding of natural law that ‘so as you would be done by’ is ingrained or at the very least universally acknowledged, then why do so many people spend so much time doing or not doing that which they would loathe to have (or not have) happen to them?

I must admit that despite the many years I spent working in psychiatry I have never really understood people who go out of their way to lie, gossip, control and generally make miserable those around them. I can’t see that this makes them happy at all.

My Latin quote for today (coincidentally) is Beatus, qui prodest, quibus potest which is an interesting one because it could mean “Blessed is he with the power to help {others}” or it could mean “Blessed is he with power over those he helps”.

The deeply sad fact is that there are so many people who think in the second way rather than the first. WHY they want to think and behave that way is a mystery to me, but then the Catholic Church has long taught of the “mystery of iniquity”.

I see so many people who are brought up in horrible ways and so end up choosing (it IS a choice) to follow that way of being; which seems to be nurture + free will rather than nature as such. But I am completely confused by those people who are brought up by parents who while imperfect are still loving and do their best to give that love and yet the child ends up doing horrible things. What on earth leads to that?

Kate Whicker has some moving insights.


2 responses to “Nature, nurture, personality and free will.

  1. interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    ” But I am completely confused by those people who are brought up by parents who while imperfect are still loving and do their best to give that love and yet the child ends up doing horrible things.”

    I cant answer your question, but I have always hoped that for the majority of such people, the wonderful parental love they experienced during their childhood will mean that (like the drug addict son in the article you linked to), they will eventually be able to leave their destructive life choices and return to the right path.
    The love of their parents will have given them the emotional and psychological tools (self-esteem, self-control, good judegement etc) necessary to eventually make this decision.

    Just my thoughts!

    God bless

  2. Yes, the mystery of free will is a complete mystery.
    I had a discussion with a nun about this recently. She is of the opinion that ALL wicked acts are owing to some past emotional wound in that person. I felt that her view seemed to deny the dignity of free will as it reduces the human person to a helpless product of his environment.
    I loved Kate Wickers thoughts too, thank you.

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