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  • Matthew Kelly

Is the Nature vs. Nurture Debate ALL WRONG?


The nature versus nurture debate has been raging for decades now, but it seems to be reaching a fever pitch in our culture right now.

Nature is what we think of us, our genetic inheritance, pre-wiring, and other biological factors. Nurture is the influence of external factors, for example, life experiences, parenting, education, and social settings.

Most people agree that some things are determined by nature, other by nurture, and most by a combination of both. But there are some things that people aggressively disagree with when the question is raised.

Whenever there is a disagreement, in anything, it’s important to establish definitions, so everyone is clear on what we are actually talking about. The next thing is to examine the question itself. Is the question itself sound?

Most people accept the assumptions of the questions. When my daughter Isabel was little, I used to ask her, “Are you a monkey or a turtle?” She would choose whichever she preferred that day. She was given two options and felt she had to choose one or the other. Later she would ask me to do something, and I would say, “Oh, monkeys don’t do that.” She would explain that she wasn’t a monkey, and I would remind her that she told me she was a monkey.

I did this with all my children, still do with more complex questions today. As little ones they caught on and learned to reject the premise of the question. Eventually when I asked Isabel if she was a monkey or a turtle she would say, “I’m a little girl.”

I was trying to teach them not to accept the premise of the question. We make this mistake all the time as a whole society, and we do it on huge questions. The nature or nurture question is a perfect example.

The construct of questions like these locks our attention on the options before us and can prevent us from seeing other options.

All that to say, there is a problem with the nature or nurture question. It is based on a false assumption and is therefore an unsound question which will almost always produce an incomplete or erroneous answer.

What’s the problem? The question ignores choice. Choice is a huge influencer in our lives. Some things are determined or influenced by nature, others are determined or influenced by nurture, but almost everything is influenced by choice.

Our ability to choose is an incredibly significant factor in almost everything. To exclude it from the nature versus nurture question is an egregious error. Unless of course it is done on purpose, and in many cases I believe it is.


Matthew Kelly


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