Tag Archives: nurture

Nature, Nurture, Environment and Choice

How the balance between nature and nurture shapes us is something psychologists have been arguing about for about as long as there have been psychologists. How much of who we are comes from the genetic material we inherit, and how much comes from the environment we are exposed to? Faced with these two great forces, do we have much free will at all, or can we only be products of our biology and experience?

Once we become old enough to act for ourselves to any degree, we become active co-creators in making and choosing our environments. What we let ourselves dwell on, what we look at, listen to, go back to repeatedly – these are all things that shape us environmentally, and we do get a say in them. There’s a lot of practical difference between reading a book of nature poems and reading a fascist newspaper, for example. Why we choose one over the other may have a lot to do with where we came from, but at any time, any of us can choose these experiences, or refuse them.

Do you go for a walk in the wood or do you stare at your phone for an hour? Are you listening to music you love or is there some kind of wallpaper noise on in the background? Do you pause in your day to appreciate the good things and to express gratitude? Do you make time for self care or do you treat yourself like a disposable resource? How much time do you spend on things that give you joy, and how much time do you spend doing things you think are pointless, boring, or unpleasant? Do you go online to seek out inspiration, or to pick fights?

It’s in our smallest choices within a day that we construct the environment we inhabit.  It is easiest for us to do the things that align with where we’ve come from, but it isn’t inevitable. A little curiosity to explore what we don’t know can open up our choices no end. A willingness to notice what we feel good about and what we don’t and take action on it can lead to radical and powerful life changes. Often it’s the things we do with least thought, as habit, as what people like me do, that define us without our knowing it. No doubt some backgrounds and experiences make it harder to be the kind of adult who can look at how they live and make deliberate changes. Harder, but not, I think, impossible.

We are all shaped, one way and another, by where we come from. It’s easy to mistake that starting point for ‘real’ self. We are all full of far more potential and possibility than we can explore in one lifetime. We all have the scope to be more than we are, and other than we have been. Real freedom comes from owning that, taking total responsibility for who you are, and then living from a place of choice rather than habit.



Nurturing your paganism

There used to be a hefty debate in psychology about which was the most important: Nature (your DNA) or Nurture (your environment) in determining your personality, and through that, the rest of your life experience. As, for many of us growing up, our biological parents are also the main providers of our environmental experience, this is not an easy set of things to pick apart. However, it’s looking increasingly like lifestyle affects which genes we manifest – from that raw material, there is scope to switch on and off certain features, to express one option rather than another. As we grow, we also become more able to choose and shape our environment. It turns out that it is what we experience that does most to shape us.

The thing about experience, is that we are active participants in our own life. Most of us have at least some control over how we spend our time, who we spend it with and what we expose ourselves to. I’m not aware of any studies about how environmental choices affect adults, but there is a lot of evidence that children learn, and grow more happily and effectively f they have time out of doors. There is evidence of how observed violence in particular impacts on developing minds, tapping into mirror neurones that are part of how we learn. There is evidence that a mere five minutes a day out of doors in a green space has positive mental health benefits. I can’t recall sources, but if you’ve time to wander online, it’s all out there, because I probably got it from BBC radio.

Now consider what it does to an adult to get up, drive to work, spend the day in a little cubicle, drive back, eat a ready meal and spend the rest of the day in front of the TV or a computer. If this is the environment we create for ourselves – as plenty of people do – how is it, in turn, feeding and shaping us? Who are we if we do this? What is our life experience? What happens to our inner life, our emotions, our relationships? One of the biggest apparent reasons for being like this is the belief that there is no alternative. Every time I moot this kind of issue, someone tells me that they just can’t do differently. If you are not choosing this way of life, but it is being forced upon you, I would seriously suggest doing whatever radical, non-violent thing turns out to be necessary to escape.

I hear from people new to paganism who struggle with how to make that huge, almost unimaginable leap from normal life, to real life. Pagan life. The move from passive endurance to active, joyful living. The move away from a life in small boxes to one of great horizons. The answer does not lie in thought, or study, or wishful thinking. It lies in simple and direct action. Change your environment. If only for a few minutes every day, change your space. Bring plants into it. Go outside more. Walk. Turn off the television. Five minutes a day will shift you, and something else will naturally come from this, and when you do that too, you will be walking your pagan path, taking those first baby steps towards new perceptions and understanding. It is in your power to decide at least a little bit of where and how you spend your time. Once you start getting nature into that, once nature becomes part of your environment, the other stuff becomes easier. It’s not a struggle to find the time, but the ability to experience your own natural impulses, and the confidence to give them the space they deserve.

Then in turn, you change the kind of environment that you create for other people, and they too will be influenced by this.

Given due time, anything is possible.