Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nurture vs. Nature

I have written before that I have done more reading in the past 15 months or so than in the previous 20 years. Part of the reason for that is that I was busy raising a family, adopting kids from Russia, practicing law, doing church work and dealing with the meltdown of a marriage. What spare time I had was taken up in running and with other hobbies and interests.

Now, however, in this season of my life, I have taken up reading again. And a couple of days ago, I had one of those realizations that are very meaningful to me, but probably leave other people scratching their heads, wondering what the big deal is. The realization: I *loved* to read as a child. I read voraciously as soon as I learned how. I loved the series, "Childhood of Famous Americans," as well as the Hardy Boy books. And as soon as I was old enough, I started ordering books through the Weekly Readers, most of which were fiction, particularly historical fiction. I also belonged to a summer reading club for several years grades 3-6 or so.

I also realized that I was pretty much alone in my intense interested in reading, not only among my siblings, but also my parents. I don't think my dad as an adult ever read a book for pleasure; all I recall him reading was the evening newspaper. Same with my mom. She started reading romance novels by the dozen a year or so after my parents' separated; but that was the extent of her reading as well.

The upshot of these realizations, among other things, is that I came to see, in a very clear and focused way, that a love of reading was part of my "nature," not a result of the environment in which I was raised (nurture). Such a simple, seemingly obvious realization, yet it opened doors to understanding. For one thing, it gave me a greater appreciation of my own unique personality as a child - that I wasn't just "there," that I was and am a unique person that was not just "acted upon."

I also thought of my own children and how I tried to create an atmosphere of reading in the home, wanting them to be readers. I'm not saying this was a bad thing, but I see now that I focused far too much on "nurture" to the detriment of "nature." For one thing, I took credit for the fact that my three older daughters and my oldest son became avid readers, rather than recognizing that this trait was part of who they *are*, not who I molded them to be. Secondly, I see now that I should have focused less on molding my children and more on nurturing their innate nature. I also see, embarrassed, that I believed that, unless I developed the desire to read in my children, it wouldn't emerge.

I'm not blaming myself totally for this, for it was an aspect of Mormon culture and doctrine. Children were to be "trained up in the way they should go." They were to be taught to work, taught the value of education, taught to develop their talents. Taught to go to church. Taught to read their scriptures. Taught. Taught. Taught. 

Some of these are worthy goals, of course, but it tends to leave little room for nature with too much emphasis on nurture - which really was training and not nurturing.

Beyond all of the foregoing, my realization about who I was as a child made me think/question when and why it was that I lost my zeal for reading ... a question that I haven't yet been able to fully answer. I'm just letting it lie there for now. 

I suppose many would wonder why I spend so much time in introspection like this. But I would imagine that most such people have likely not spent most of their lives in the closet, or perhaps in an oppressive marriage or some other soul-destroying experience that lasted for decades, during which one's identity, one's sense of self, is ground into dust. I think one of the reasons I am so driven to recover my historical self, my memories, is so that I feel less like a cipher, a shell of a person who doesn't feel connection to anything, but has been conditioned to merely function.

In this regard, I was reminded recently of something that a counselor - my family physician - once told me about 18 years ago as I was going through a difficult time, dealing with child abuse for the first time. He told me that I hadn't allowed myself to have desires, let alone act upon them (and I had not told him anything about my hidden sexual orientation). The remark took my breath away, and I wished I could have discussed it further with him.

What becomes of a man who doesn't allow himself to have desires (of any kind, not just sexual)? He has no real personality. He goes through life losing who he is, like sand silently slipping out of a hole in a bag until there is nothing left ...

But getting back to "nurture" and "nature," I have vowed - though I have less contact with them now that I'm divorced - with my younger children to make more efforts to nurture their nature, and in this regard I have a wonderful partner - Mark - who is equally committed, with no agendas, to seeing the children blossom into who they are. 

Without any prompting from me, for example, he decided to form a "Frequent Reader Miles Club" with Aaron, who has difficulty reading. Aaron, who understandably doesn't like to read, actually looks forward to reading with Mark. It is such a delight for me to witness this, in part because I know that Mark's sole ambition is to help Aaron be who he can be and to discover the world through reading. He has no other agenda. And I love him the more for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment