Are People Good?
Persona Paper 07.05.2015
Are People Good?
This question is a great question that deserves a great answer. My teenage son and his classmates responded to this question in an essay in one of their classes. I can’t remember what class; it was probably his criminal justice class. I can’t remember his grade. It was probably adequate for a seventeen-year-old boy. I decided to pose this question for my writing today.
The news depresses me with tales of disasters, calamities, and myriad woes. In spite of those dire stories of misery, I do believe that humans are good. I do not subscribe to the notion of original sin. I leave that up to God’s pundits. I think that we are born with personality traits that do make us who we are, but I don’t think that there is such a thing as an evil gene.
People in science often ask another question. Are humans a result of nature or nurture? This debate is an old question that psychologists have asked for ages. What is it that influences us as people? Folks who are on the nature side believe that each person is the way that he is because of DNA. Nurture believers say that we became “me” because of the influences of those around us. Take intelligence. Is someone smart because he has high IQ or because he had a good education? How about homosexuality? Ooh! You didn’t see that one coming. I’m just going to throw the questions out there because it is part of nature vs. nurture debate.
Who started this debate? I am full of questions today. The controversy over nature vs. nurture began in 1869 by Francis Galton. He believed that personality traits were inherited. Charles Darwin was so intrigued by Galton’s thoughts that Darwin went on to research and wrote The Origin of the Species . Galton believed that the notion of nature assured the survival of a species.
There have been numerous twin studies that indicate that nature plays a greater role in our personalities than we once believed. Does this trump my thoughts on an evil gene? Do serial killers have individual genetic makeups that make them kill? Schizophrenia is a trait linked to our DNA. Infant shyness and introversion are two other personality traits related to DNA.
If I keep on going, then I’m going to convince myself to change my ideas on that evil gene. Researchers conclude that both heredity and our environment work together to shape our personality and our intelligence. Studies show that IQ levels do run in families. Smart people have smart children. The studies show that our intelligence is anywhere from sixty to eighty percent inherited. Studies also show that the people around us influence our intelligence. These people include our parents and our teachers. That is a yes for me.
We inherit our hair and eye color from our parents. There is no doubt of that. Many diseases like Huntingdon’s are inherited. Because of this, we wonder if other traits like mental disorders are inherited. Psychologists agree that depression and attention deficits are inherited. So, could there be a serial killer or mass murderer gene? Are these horrid acts committed as a result of having some other mental disorder? If you believe in evolution, you are more likely to be a nativist. A nativist is someone who believes that we inherit our core personalities. Naturists are folks who like to go naked. Is that trait in our DNA? If you think we are born blank slates, then you would be an empiricist.
No matter what you believe on the subject of nature vs. nurture, it is controversial. This debate, like so many other debates in history, becomes one of the politics. There is also the question of sex and gender. Who is smarter? Men or women? I won’t go there. Is a lack of courage inherited?
In college, I learned Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Piaget put this theory forth in 1920 after observing children of different ages. His theory states that we are programmed as a species to go through stages of cognitive development. Piaget made many assumptions about children. Piaget said that children construct their knowledge through their experiences. Children learn on their own without the help of their parents or their teachers. That is reason enough to stop being the sage on the stage. I don’t think that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. He went on to say that children are intrinsically motivated to learn. I don’t believe that.
Scientists and researchers conducted these studies years ago. Are they still relevant today? Modern medical marvels keep everyone alive for much longer. Has technology changed evolution? Are we keeping the bad genes around? Should we let nature take its course in everything that we do? How are we as a society unwittingly changing our genetics?
Are people good? The Puritans believed that we are all just damned to hell and have no recourse but to scourge ourselves of our bad impulses. They believed that we were and are born with a naturally sinful nature. That theory sounds so archaic, but isn’t that what you might consider if you think that we are naturally who we are? I realize that I have raised more questions rather than answered them. Here is another question: What do you believe?
This text and all of the images belong to Melissa Reese Etheridge. You may use my ideas, but you must cite this source if you use any of the text as it is.
Image Credit » This image belongs to Melissa Reese Etheridge.