Nature or Nurture?

Blog #18—Nature or Nurture?

I work at a community center in a low-income neighborhood. Children gather here (pre-Covid times) to hang out in the computer lab, make art or watch a movie. One day I overheard a boy talking about his mother. He was using the vilest words to describe her and that she should be slapped. What was coming out of his mouth were things that you might expect from a grown man who very much disliked women. I went into the room and he was surrounded by his friends. Some were even laughing. I said to the boy that we can’t use language like that around here and then I stopped short and asked, “How old are you, anyway?” He gave me a slow head-to-toe once over,  looked me in the eye and said, “Five.”

I will never forget this, ever. As the weeks went on, I noticed that he had quite a group of friends that followed him everywhere. One day I said to him, “You know, you would make a great leader.” He looked at me with some surprise, and I told him to look around at how his friends listen to him. I told him that he could use those skills for good things in the world. After that when he showed up at free lunches during the summer or community activities, I put him to work. He helped to clear tables and throw out the trash. From then on, he treated me with respect.

I only spent moments with him during his young life, and where he learned that misogynistic language that he parroted remains unknown.  But I saw potential in him and believe that if he had the right amount of encouragement he might turn around. I don’t know. Maybe he has. There are too many factors at play here.

Is it nature or nurture that forms us or a combination of both?  That also depends on the individual circumstances, I suppose.
My point is, sometimes families are doing everything that they can just to survive. Notions of building confidence and supporting their child’s daydreams are so far from their grasp as they try to get jobs, feed their families, fight cultural and social barriers, to just live. The pressure is excruciating and often a child’s greater psychological and emotional needs go unmet.

Will a t-shirt with an aspirational message change the way children see themselves in the world?  Will wearing an “I am a Leader” or I am a Teacher” or I am Brave” message help build confidence and self-esteem? Time will tell, but our feeling is that why not give nurture a try? It certainly can’t hurt. In the meantime, they will be the coolest kid on the block because our shirts are awesome.

Thank you,

Little ones from around the world explain leadership. So sweet and insightful!
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