Nurture our nature


“Every parent believes in nurture until they have their second child.” 

Multiple sources

What is it that happens to parents
after they have their second child
that shakes their belief in the tabula rasa?
With one, parents can assume
that all of their child’s positive traits
are due to their enlightened methods of child rearing (negative traits the genetic influence of other relatives).
Then they use the same methods with the second child,
who turns out to be so different from the first
that they have to question their premises. 

Marvin Zuckerman

We know that correlation is not causation. You know, we read a lot to our child, and they become a better reader or even love reading. We think we have a unique method of discipline that produces better behaved kids. The outcomes are correlated but not necessarily prove causation. Our intentions and actions are just one of many factors that impact the results. Capiche?

Dealing with humans and especially our kids is complex. The greatest complexity is that the shuffling of the DNA card decks, the mixing of the chromosomal cocktails, the spectrum of the genetic gamuts, that determine at least 50% of difference. The difference between siblings is largely determined by genes, by nature. Makes sense, right? That means the “environment” accounts for the balance. But here is where most of us jump to the conclusion that nurture, one component of the environment plays a bigger role in  the outcomes for our children.

Since we are not fully aware of the genetic differences between our kids, our parenting-the nurture, tends to be driven by nature. Let me try to clarify. What we may view as “bad behavior”, “anti-social”, or just plain ole irritating behaviors are mostly manifestations of genetic differences, according to longitudinal studies of siblings, twins and adopted children. Our views of behavior, assets and deficits are often influenced by our genetics. If you are following me, behavior and our reaction to that behavior is a function of the DNA, the nature. So nature is the overwhelming influence in understanding and forming differences between our kids and other people.

This generated this controversial quote that has been taken out of context:
Parents matter, but they do not make a difference.  Robert Plomin

Here’s the important takeaway. We have all overweighted the power of our parental techniques, our individual charisma, and our influence over our children. We all know parents who are better people, better humans than us, who have children who have turned out very differently than expectations—to be euphemistic😊. We concoct many judgmental theories about the inadequacy of their nurture.

As the father of three grown children, it is clear nature was the dominate influence over the differences between them. The differences in their attributes, career paths, their well-being, and their worldviews. No this does not absolve my wife and I from our roles, responsibilities and now regrets about our parenting practice. But allowing nature to fully reveal itself and to teach us how to nurture the nature m were missing pages in the parental operating manuals we received. Once we got to our third child, we did realize that there were limits to our theories and our parenting efficacy. To me, this helps explain birth order differences. Yes, differences between the eldest, middle and “baby” are accepted parental lore backed by mass experience. But I can’t help but think about how our parenting practice could have been more informed by allowing nature instead of forcing nurture.

We share a lot of the same or similar DNA characteristics with chimpanzees, bananas, and even lettuce. Yes lettuce. But the subtle and not so subtle differences make humans unique. While every chimpanzee is a little different, like every bunch of bananas or even heads of lettuce, humans have the potential for a much greater range of difference. While we know some people seem more like bananas, there is so much more beneath the peal. 😊

But this challenge of correlation versus causation extends deeply into our societal expectations, systems, and institutions. Our poor understanding about nature and nurture have forged mythologies that influence basic education, workplace professional development, mentoring at all levels, and healthcare.

Body Mass Index (BMI), which is popular measurement of among other things, obesity. While the measure is controversial, we use it. Many research studies have proven that BMI is 70% driven by genetics, by our DNA. So all environmental factors including eating, nutrition, income, and place account for the remaining 30%. Of course, people who eat poorly can become obese. But it is important to know that BMI is overwhelmingly influenced by your genes.

Our lack of interest and attention to nature makes nurture the hammer we forge conformity and compliance.

We are all in a hurry to fix problems and people. Our instant judgments based on experience and bias end up treating individuals more like heads of lettuce.

Differences in people must be understood and nurtured if we really believe in diversity and equity.

I am not advocating for genetic testing as much as genetic education. The BMI example raises all sorts of gaps in our understanding of the human architecture.

Epigenetics has shown that much of our DNA, our nature, is unexpressed. In our hearts we know that within every child, every person are talents, skills, and even genius that gets lost, ignored, or hammered down.

Everyone we meet has unexpressed superpowers.

I spent nearly a lifetime trying to open people’s eyes and help people see the pathways in front of them that aligned to who they are and where they want to go. To see through the fog of expectations and the prescriptions of the outside world that obfuscate and distract us from what we want to be.

We waste so much time, so much energy, trying to push beautiful round people into square holes.

For parents and leaders, nurture matters and can make a difference. But how we nurture, how we foster environments, that supports the nature, can generate very different outcomes.

We all need more genetic education so we can nurture our nature and nurture the nature of others.

Sometimes it doesn't take much imagination when you look at the clouds. Close encounters of the cloudy kind last week. Partly cloudy and a chance of unknowing.

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