Monthly Archives: March 2013

Human Nature Part 2


human nature 2

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:


Human Nature Part 1


I think, often, I forget that I’m a student. No, I don’t forget to go to class (or log into the school website for my online classes), nor do I forget my homework (usually), but as far as this blog goes, I think I forget. I spend a lot of time writing for my classes. A LOT. Most of my time is spent reading and writing. And the only person who ever reads my writing is my teacher. And that makes me a bit sad. This semester I’m taking a counseling theories class. One of the parts of the class has to do with developing out own particular view of human nature. I’ve written two papers on that so far, and I’m quite pleased with them. So, because the point of this blog is to talk, or share, about the three big things in my life (being a student, a mama, and a cook), I will share my personal view of human nature. In two parts, as that’s how it was written. This first part talks almost exclusively about why we do what we do.

human nature

What are my views on human nature? Well, that’s a good question. I don’t know that I’ve given it a ton of thought before. But, it is something I occasionally think about. It reminds me of my Personality Theory class, though sadly I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have liked. It was my first real upper level class in college, I wasn’t really prepared for it and my professor spent most of the semester flirting with the student he would later have an affair with and almost lose his job over (as she was over the age of 30 he just lost his position as chair of the department and his tenure, and his wife, and reputation, but that’s beyond the point). It’s the last bit that really relates to this paper.

Why did my professor have an affair? I know his (ex)wife. She’s a very nice woman, smart, great mother and kind to those she works with. I can’t judge their relationship outside of what I saw, but it seemed happy. Was there something broken in their relationship? Was he unhappy with things as they stood with his wife? I don’t know but I can guess. The lure of an illicit extramarital affair gives excitement to an otherwise mundane or boring life. I can only imagine that the “other woman” had similar feelings.

If I were to look through my textbooks I would find a litany of theories on what human nature is and why people do what they do. But this isn’t a report on a text book. I can’t remember names of theorists off hand, and I can’t even tell you for sure which school of thought humanists prefer to which view of human nature Freudian’s like. But I can tell you what I think, based on the books I’ve read and the classes I’ve taken. I think what motivates humans, what drives them, changes over time, though the underlying reasons remain similar.

Babies and young children are motivated by their desires. They want to, in essence, feel good. A three year old will climb up a chair, stand on a counter and reach on top of the fridge to get cookies. More drastically, lab studies have even shown that rats prefer crack–which makes them feel good–to food. It could be said that even adults are motivated by the base instinct to feel good. Think about the example of my professor and my classmate at the beginning. They weren’t thinking about the consequences of their actions. They weren’t thinking of two failed marriages, a ruined career and an education that was almost abandoned. I can’t say for sure, but if I had to guess, I would say that they were being motivated by the good feelings that come from sex and the excitement of knowing that you’re doing something that perhaps you aren’t supposed to be doing.

I do think, however, that a person can grow above just doing things because they want to feel good, that there is a drive that is deeper than the basic need to pleasure one’s self. I feel that love, of the need or desire to do good for others, can be just as powerful a motivator as self-pleasure. As a mother I know that I would do anything for my children, even give my own life. I remember hearing a story as a child about a brother and sister. The brother got hit by a car and needed blood. There wasn’t anyone close with a matching blood type other than the little sister. She willing volunteered to give her blood. After the nurse left the room she asked her mom when she was going to die. The girl had given her blood thinking that she was going to die. She did it because she loved her brother and that love was the motivation she needed to give her life for him.

While love and personal satisfaction might be strong motivators for behavior, they are not usually the reason problems develop. I feel that among the reasons people have problems is because they don’t know what they want, or are confused by what they think they want. For example, I have, on occasion, struggled with depression. This has been something that has recently been a problem for me and has been a problem in the past as well. I find that when I get depressed it is usually around the same time that I have to make big decisions or that things aren’t going the way I wanted. When I was married I was depressed a lot. My relationship with my ex-husband wasn’t (and still isn’t if I’m honest). There were times when I would find myself thinking about my life and wondering if I had made the right decisions.

I found that the more I thought about all the things I could have done better in my life the more depressed I got. The more I thought about the state of my marriage and my life the more depressed I got. The only thing that kept me from doing something drastic was my children. So, in my case, the problems in my life were cause by the decisions that I had made when I was younger. I had thought I wanted to be married; I had thought I’d loved my ex-husband. Because I realized that neither of these was true, I created a lot of emotional problems for myself. Though I am now in a better position than I was five years ago, I still suffer with depressive episodes relating to the decisions that I made in the past.

This is, of course, not the only way that people develop problems. Problems are can also develop due to outside forces. I have a brother who was very active in Boy Scouts when he was younger. While the rest of my brothers (there are four of them) enjoyed spending a week at Boy Scout camp every year, this one brother was so into scouting that he actually worked at the Scout camp for several summers in a row. This is not unusual. However, after one summer there, my parents started to notice that his behavior started to change. It came to light that the director of the camp had been molesting not only him, but several of the other teenage workers at the camp.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you what sexual abuse can do to a person. It has been over ten years and he is still is suffering the effects of it. He has a hard time holding down a job because he has a hard time dealing with people. He’s finally found a job that he does with pretty good success. He’s a long haul truck driver, he spend less than a week at home every month. While it might seem like it would be hard on his family, it actually works out well for them.

His solution, however unique to him, is an example of a way that people can overcome the problems in their life. It has been my experience that when people are faced with difficult times in their life they can either give into the pressure or they can grow and overcome them. When a person gives into the pressure, several things can happen. A person can become addicted to drugs or alcohol to the detriment to all things in their life. While I know it’s not the case for all people suffering from substance additions, there are those who start drinking or using drugs as a way to escape their problems. It would have been very easy for my brother to succumb to drugs or alcohol to “solve” his problems. However, he didn’t. The way that he found to coup, through therapy and love and support from family, is another way to handle problems.

While this is not the only way to view human nature, this is the way I think of it. People are driven, at least in the beginning, by the desire for pleasure. As they grow and develop, there is the possibility to move on from that desire to being motivated by love for others. The way that problems develop for people can vary. Problems can be developed either by the choices people make or by circumstances that they don’t have control over. Both types of problems can be very detrimental. The way that people deal with their problems can either help them grow and overcome them or it can hinder them causing them to have even more problems.