Previously, I wrote a paper that looked at what motivates people to do what they do. I concluded that, in my opinion, people were motivated by a basic desire to do what feels good, but that they could grow and evolve into people motivated by a desire to do good or by love. I also decided that psychological problems develop because people don’t know what they want out of life. These characteristics, what motivates people and why people develop problems, are just two of the facets in the multi faceted idea of what human nature is.
Human nature is motivation. Human nature is wants and desires. Human nature is how we “fix” things that go wrong in our lives. Human nature is what makes us strong or weak. Human nature is what separates men from animals. Human nature is what makes me, different than the monkeys at the zoo. I feel that by defining my own personal views of human nature I can begin to differentiate myself from animals that eat their own poop.
I recall learning about the different views that early philosophers had about how people were born. Meaning the way their “souls” were when they were born, not the way that they exited the birthing canal. Some philosophers insisted that people were born inherently good, that through interactions with the world around them their good souls wither remained good, or were corrupted to evil. Other philosophers believed that people were born inherently evil. This is probably why many religions baptize babies. They are attempting to cleanse their souls, which are born evil. It is through interactions with people and the lessons of concerned people such as religious leaders, that a person can become good, or indeed, stay evil. There is a third approach to the way that the soul is born however, and this is the one that I’m more likely to give credence to. Humans are born as “blank slates”. Humans are born neither good, nor evil. It is through the interactions with others and the environment in which they live that determines if they become “good” or “evil”. That being said, I do believe that there is also a genetic component to this as well.
In the last few years of my undergraduate work, epigenetics was just starting to take a great hold of psychology and the world in general. I remember learning about it with fascination. One of the guys I went to school with laughingly called epigenetics proof of the concept of collective unconsciousness. I latched onto it for a very different reason. Besides the key fact that epigenetics is proof that the way our ancestors acted has a profound influence on our behaviors today, I found a new reason to say why I’m fat. I can blame my great-great-grandmothers, the pioneers. They crossed the plains in covered wagons and hand carts. Times were hard, food was scarce, more often than not, everyone went hungry, some of their children even died because of the lack of food and other health issues related to living in a barren inhospitable land surrounded by people who really didn’t like you very much.
According to epigenetic theory, the starvation that occurred caused a switch to be thrown in the DNA that said “STORE” in regards to fat. It it’s still on, all these generations later. Because to this gene, even though I am no longer living in a situation where food is scarce to the point that my children are starving, my body is still holding onto all the fat it can get (Stoger, 2008). I suppose then, that my belief in the way we are born is a combination of the blank slate and epigenetic theories. People are born essentially primed to be molded, but with the influence of their ancestors.
But, how does someone for from being born with just a shadow of influence from days long past to serial killer or president? What causes one identical twin to become schizophrenic and not the other one? It comes down to our interactions with the world around us. Let’s use the earlier example of my great, great, grandmother and me being fat. I’ve got sisters and cousins who aren’t fat. Sure. They have the same genetic capacity for it as I do, but their life choices have been very different than mine. My sister puts in hours at the gym and eats a lot of vegetables without butter and salt. I on the other hand spend no time exercising and eat a lot of chocolate. It is the differences in our choices and our interactions with the world that cause the shared genes that we have to be expressed differently.
I suppose that I’ve still not said succinctly what I think the nature of humans is. I suppose that I’m not sure. For me, I feel that my personal theory of it is always changing and evolving with my new experiences and with new people that I meet. But for now I think I can sum it up in a few sentences, combining the information in this paper and the one written at the beginning of the semester. We are born with the capacity to do or be anything, with a shadow of our ancestors to guide our genes. Through our interactions with the world around us we grow and change. We are motivated early in life by the desire to feel good, though with growth and experience we can evolve to be motivated by love or a desire to do good for others. Any problem that arise in our lives are caused by us not knowing what it is we want, or thinking we want something that isn’t good or appropriate for us. Occasionally problems are not caused by our mistaken needs, but by the influence of others, but we can still overcome them. The solutions for our problems are inside of us; sometimes we just need to have someone show them to us.
Stoger, R. (2008). Epigenetics and obesity. Pharmacogenomics, 9(12), 1851-1860. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2217/146224184.108.40.2061