In June of this year, it will be one year since the Presidential elections began.  At best, the elections have been an embarrassing, poorly preformed circus with narcissistic ringleaders who claim to represent America on the global stage.  The silliness of the elections has overshadowed so many more important issues facing our communities and invariably, the U.S. has once again become fodder for the rest of the world.
During Sangha discussion period this morning, someone asked a peculiar question: “what’s better: a candidate who believe in ‘nature’ or one who believes in ‘nurture’….’heredity’ or ‘society’ (genes or environment)?”  In that great debate of our time, conservatives lean toward the former and liberals toward the latter.
Maybe we are asking the wrong question. I believe it’s nature and nurture, and this is why.
I was born into a very loving yet humble home. And I ordained when I was 15 or so. One of the first lessons I learned from my Teacher was that experiencing life was as enlightening as sitting in a classroom, so for one year, I escaped being taught some of the typical lessons of my generation: for instance, that this country was “discovered” when the first white man set foot on it, that boys and girls were practically a different species, that Europe deserved more textbook space than Africa and Asia combined.
Instead, I was encouraged to see with my own eyes, follow my curiosity, fall in love with books, and I grew up mostly around grown-ups, both in monastery and out…..which, except for the books, was the way kids were raised for most of human history.
Needless to say, when I returned, school hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t prepared for gender obsessions, race and class complexities, or the new-to-me idea that war and male leadership were part of human nature. Soon, I gave in and became an adolescent hoping for approval and trying to conform. It was a stage that lasted through college.
Since then, I’ve spent two decades working with and listening to kids before and after social roles hit. Faced with some inequality, the younger ones say, “It’s not fair!” It’s as if there were some primordial expectation of empathy and cooperation that helps the species survive. But by the time kids are teenagers, social pressures have either nourished or starved this expectation. I suspect that their natural cry for fairness…..or any whisper of it that survives… the root from which all social justice movements grow.
So I no longer believe the conservative message that children are naturally selfish and destructive creatures who need civilizing by hierarchies or painful controls. On the contrary, I believe that hierarchy and painful controls create destructive people. And I no longer believe the liberal message that children are blank slates on which society can write anything. On the contrary, I believe that a unique core self is born into every human being…..the result of millennia of environment and heredity combined in an unpredictable way that could never happen before or again.
The truth is, we’ve been seduced into asking the wrong question by those who hope that the social order they want is inborn, or those who hope they can write the one they want on our uniquely long human childhoods.
But the real answer is a balance between nature and nurture. What would happen if we listened to children as much as we talked to them? Or what would happen if even one generation were raised with respect and without violence?
I believe we have no idea what might be possible on this great Earth.