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STRONGER TOGETHER: How Nature and Nurture Shape Our Lives—A Tale of Two Paths

Last updated: 05/02/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses nature versus nurture and the significance of early experiences on our life trajectories.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

The age-old question of nature versus nurture has fascinated scholars and laypeople alike, as they ponder how these two forces shape our lives. Episode Eight of our “Stronger Together” podcast explored this concept through the lens of Indigenous woman Sharon, who was separated from her family at a young age and has found herself grappling with the enduring consequences of her tumultuous childhood.

Listening to her story, it is hard to comprehend the trauma she has been through, and the challenges she continues to face in building and maintaining healthy relationships, which has resulted in social isolation and deep loneliness.

Her story invites us to think about how our early environments have a powerful impact on our life trajectories. To illustrate the nature versus nurture dilemma, we can imagine two individuals who start their lives in very different circumstances—one growing up in a family full of strong bonds and healthy relationships, the other in an environment lacking these vital elements. How does this difference shape their outcomes?

Childhood memories, which are often imprinted in our minds and hearts, form the basis of our identities. They affect how we see ourselves and the world, how we express and regulate our emotions, and how we interact with others. The significance of these early experiences becomes more apparent as we observe the different paths individuals follow based on the nurturing—or lack thereof—they receive.

It is important to acknowledge that the nature versus nurture debate is not a binary choice; rather, it is a complex interaction where both factors influence the person we become. Genetics provide us with a unique set of characteristics and tendencies. However, the environment in which we are nurtured acts as a shaper, transforming and enhancing these innate qualities into the rich mosaic of our personalities.

The benefits of a nurturing environment are clearly demonstrated in the individual who grew up in a family full of connections. Supported by a network that promoted emotional well-being, this person is likely to develop effective communication skills, adaptability, and a positive attitude towards relationships. The security and stability of their upbringing provide a solid base, enabling them to cope with the challenges and complexities of human connection with relative ease.

On the other hand, the drastically different environment experienced by the second individual—an environment devoid of emotional support and healthy relationships—creates significant obstacles. The lack of a safe base can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining connections, which can trigger a series of problems such as social isolation and loneliness. This individual may struggle with trust issues, fear of abandonment, and an overall difficulty in establishing meaningful relationships.

This interplay between nature and nurture, reminds us of the need to be mindful in how we perceive and respond to others who may have different backgrounds and experiences than us. We often judge others for their behaviour without any regard for the circumstances that might have led them to this point. In the profound words of Harper Lee, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”. Could we bring curiosity to the situation rather than judgement?

Could we bring empathy and a willingness to understand rather than bias the outcome with our own beliefs and values, forgetting that our experience may have been very different to another? When we are curious and empathetic in our interactions, we better understand others, foster a greater sense of belonging, and create a more compassionate and harmonious world for all.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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