A few years ago, a good friend of mine posted a status update on his Facebook along the lines of: "Why can't we all just get along?"
I chuckled momentarily and headed to the park with my toddlers. It took all of two seconds at the park to recognize the answer to his question.
"Because we are programmed not to."
Every essence of our being is made to compete - for space, for attention, for affection, for food, for shelter, for the chance to say to everyone - "you see? I was right!".
At the park, a swing set is a guaranteed war zone when the number of children exceeds the number of swings. There is a battle to be first down the slide. It is absolutely natural for a child to push, stomp, cry, scream or otherwise act in a completely unreasonable manner to get his or her way. It is innate. I know I did it. And I'd bet money you did it too.
By two, a child may be stubborn and throw a temper tantrum, but they ultimately know that they will eventually have to give in to society's whim and engage in civil interaction. But between a year and about twenty months, heaven help the unlucky one who gets in the way of a full-on all-natural wild child.
Nothing natural tells us to work together, to cooperate, to accept and acknowledge one another's strengths and weaknesses. That's all learned. (And sometimes forgotten.) Head to a playground at 10 a.m. any weekday morning, and you will see what mothers around the world work to nurture out of our truest nature.
Now, this is not to say that we don't also naturally crave warmth and love and human touch. We do, but that comes from a rapport based on mutual recognition and trust ... and perhaps a few genes.
The first six months, I was shocked to observe that my twins did not like each other. At all. They wanted my attention, only my attention, twenty-four hours a day, and not divided with one another or any other person in the world. They wanted my smiles, my coos, my cuddles, my milk.
When the second came home from the hospital two days later than the first, the first hit, kicked, pushed and even tried to lick her away. They were two weeks old. They would cuddle while sleeping and wanted to be close during the night, but in the day a glance at the other would set them off.
At six months, something magical happened and they realized they did not have a choice in the matter, and started a friendship.
When the were in that crazy toddler stage, they ganged up to support one another against all the other baby strangers at the park who might actually want a turn walking up the stairs or heading down the slide. Not the proudest moment for a Mama, but hey, it's natural, and at least they could stand each other by that point, right?
Somewhere deep (or perhaps more shallow) inside of you, there is a natural instinct that wants to scream and shout and let it all out. You may work hard to nurture it away, and you may know that it's best to play and work with others, but a part of who you are is knowing who you are not, and that leads directly to a comparison with others and an enemy.
It is natural to define ourselves as much by what we are not as by what we are.
That which we are not is at best unknown or confusing, and at worst an enemy. This is especially true in societies, which are prone to reflect and magnify the weaknesses of our nature despite our attempts to civilize and nurture strength of character on a personal level.
Try to imagine the United States without an "enemy." To feel as though we are a superpower, we need someone to defeat. We have a long history of opposing forces, from the way we overpowered the Native Americans to the way we broke away from the British, fought North against South, worked to defeat the Germans, feared the Russians, fought in Vietnam and Korea and now wage war in the Middle East.
How much better would the world be if instead of countries our enemies were poverty (in our own country and abroad), the oppression of women and trafficking humans and arms? How much more could we do if we battled those injustices with the strength and force and resolve that we fight wars with nations, using science and education and agriculture and incentives over military power?
There is something in us that fights a constant battle between that nature that we have as members of the animal kingdom, and the nurture that we are raised with to set ourselves apart as human.
A glimpse into that battle within your character, whether it is a children's book, a journalistic expose' or the next great American novel, is fascinating. It touches all of us on a level that we may not even want to admit to ourselves.
writercize: Write a brief inner dialogue of a man or woman facing a personal battle of nature vs. nurture.
This could be any situation you like - the beginning or end of a relationship or career, a pivotal moment in a person's morality building, a fight vs. flight response - your choice.
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response about a man and his ex who can't resist ignoring him.
This writercize created based on the prompt "nature vs. nurture" over at GBE2, hosted by the blog world's most popular hostess with the mostest, Ms. Elizabeth Grace.
Ding dong, ding dong, dong dang, ding dong.
Knock, knock, knock knock knock. Knock. Knock.
Jeremy knew she was home. He could see her car in the driveway and the blind was still rocking back and forth slightly from where she had peeked through the bedroom window. He always told her to get a peephole while they were together - you never know what could be lurking outside, but she had insisted on throwing the door open to any old knock or doorbell ringing.
Now that things were over and he was on the other side of the door, she was changing her tune.
He knew it was just a jacket. But it was his jacket, bought senior year when he made varsity tennis, paid for by his very first paycheck ever. It was weekends spent as convenience store cashier when he could have been hanging out with friends; it was afternoons and evenings spent knocking a tennis ball around when he could have been aiming for third base with a girlfriend. It was his jacket, his memories and he wanted it back.
Jeremy thought about doing the right thing and ringing again patiently or walking away and giving up, but he was pissed. Why should he give it up? Why should she be able to change and ignore him, give up on him, not answer the stupid door?
She had his stuff. She changed without him. Probably to spite him. He wanted his stuff, and he wanted to show her that she didn't have the right to be a different person. She had to be the same. He had to be the one who could change and be different. He had to move on. She was supposed to suffer. That's how it should work - he had to be stronger. He wanted to show her.
So Jeremy backed away from the door, walked up the driveway, jumped on his motorcycle and barreled back down the driveway through the front door.
When she ran downstairs shocked, he reached into the closet for the jacket, gave her a dirty look, stuck out his tongue in the most juvenile manner he could muster, muttered some sixth-grade profanity under his breath, and turned his motorcycle back around to ride it back out the door.
Jeremy felt good that he had won. He had his jacket back. Take that he thought as he rode away feeling high on vindication.