Friday, April 17, 2009

Ego: Is that all life has to offer?

Everyone has an ego. It is nothing more than a combination of many different emotions such as confidence, aggressiveness, selfishness, happiness, and greed. It is emotions that we discover as we grow and socialize. It can make up a large part of our personality and can frame our identity. But, it can also be a negative character trait because it can interrupt logical and rational thought and is driven by strong emotions. Although it can give us a sense of who we are, our ego can also hinder us from learning new things and making new social connections. It can give us a false sense of what life really has to offer.

How do we develop an ego? Humans are conscious beings because we have an understanding of ourselves and of our minds. We think of ourselves in the first person and use the 'self' label to identify ourselves in a group of many individuals. The ego is a natural quality in human beings and also exists to a lesser extent in other animals. We have egos because we have emotions that are stimulated from our outside environment through our senses. However, it is not a simple task to understand the extent of our own egos because much of our own emotional reactions are a product of heredity, about 40-50%. This is why we are sometimes unaware of how strong our emotional reactions are in certain situations. We are not always under the impression that our egos are stimulating our behaviour and attitudes within different environments.

There is no concrete way to illustrate the ego. It is designed by our own brains depending on our genetics, environment, and social interactions. We frame our egos from a young age, although we do not yet know it, by our strengths and weaknesses as well as by our interactions with not only our families but our peers. We are brought up in a society so we are encouraged to be socialized and we do this through interactions. As children we are exposed to different groups of people such as the jocks, nerds, rebels, goths, etc. and naturally we find a place or a niche that we are drawn to by our emotions or groups where we are accepted. There are also niches within a certain group so part of how we interact in a certain peer group also is a matter of chance. How we differentiate ourselves within the group is in large part left up to what niches are available. Some children become leaders, others foot soldiers or jesters, and still others peacemakers depending on what niche is available, how suited a child is to filling it, and chance. Once a child fills a role they adapt to it and are influenced by their peers to maintain their 'personality' within the group. We begin to shape our personalities and attitudes by our socialized roles at an early age.

We start to become aware of our egos throughout adolescence and early adulthood. We begin to reminisce about things that we experienced in our past through chance and timing and through our decisions that helped us to get to where we are today. This brings satisfaction to our emotional desires in our minds that we have endured so much to frame our personalities and to build an identity that is unique to the self or individual. We realize that our past actions are valuable to us because it gives us a sense of who we are. Without our own story, we would be... a nobody. This sense, this story, this worth is our ego.

Our ego is so important to us. It defines who we are and helps us to be a someone that has a past, that has opinions, and that has a unique personality. These things help a person feel like they have a stance in society and it gives them a basis for social interactions. It is a part of our biological nature because we like many organisms are socialized. But, we need to have a sense of our own individual in order to satisfy our emotional desires and represent ourselves in a large group. We do not all have the same likes and dislikes so we need to have a way to identify what is suitable for us. But, as we see in society, there are many people who believe that what they think and feel should be the way that others think and feel and this leads to the clash of egos.

We all need to understand that our egos are shaped by our own strengths and weaknesses, by our social interactions, and by our past experiences. Although we are genetically and evolutionarily similar we are unalike in our attitudes, cultures, and behaviour because we all have had different past experiences, social roles, and vulnerabilities. We simply cannot impose our egos on others and expect them to accept your ideas and attitudes without argument. Argumentation is good. It allows people to reason with each other and come to resolutions in circumstances where one party is right and the other wrong or when decision-making. However, it is important to always build our knowledge of everything around us even when we think that we know everything. What we think we know is actually our own emotions inflating our egos. Just because we feel like we already have a sense of ourselves does not mean we cannot build on that. Life is a continuous growth process. It does not stop when we have reached the realization of our egos and our personality. There is little satisfaction in believing that there is nothing else out there for us because we think we have found who we are. Life is not solely about finding who we are. Life is about the awareness of knowing more. Knowing ourselves is just one small step in the awareness of life.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture

The debate between nature and nurture has been a common argument in society for the last few decades. There are many proponents of the idea that parenting and the environment are the most important influences of how a child will grow and mature. Without the proper parenting and home environment children will not grow to their full potential. There is this notion that when we are born we need the proper direction and upbringing to mature normally because we are blank slates. This notion contrasts the other side of the argument, nature, which emphasizes the idea that our heredity determines in large part how we grow and mature with an insignificant influence of our home environment. There is, however, a significant influence on childhood development by unique experiences such as neglect and abuse, injury, illness, death in the family, etc. The argument of nature is by far stronger and coherent then the idea that proper nurturing is the most significant factor of proper childhood development.

Many psychologists and sociologists are on the side of the nurture argument. They believe that parenting is the single most important factor in a child's life and without it a child will grow up being helpless, rebellious, dependent, and make bad decisions throughout their life. Proponents of the nurture argument base their argument on statistics that show that children that are adopted and raised by parents that have their own children develop similarly to their unrelated siblings. In addition, they purport that in other findings identical twins that are separated at birth and raised by different middle-class parents will develop differently. They also suggest that spending extra time reading to their children and buying educational toys for their babies will extremely influence the development process. However, in most cases this is not just not true because their heritable traits to a significant extent (40%-50%) govern how children will develop. We cannot forget that our biology and physiology are governed solely by our genes.

In a scientific sense it is easy to understand why the nature argument is far superior to the nurture argument. There are many scientific studies that have determined that identical twins that are raised separately by different parents will develop similarly regardless of how they are raised. Based on their genetics they will both have a larger or smaller affinity for things like cigarettes, alcohol, sports, foods, etc. because their intelligence and habits are in large part governed by their genetic traits which in this case are identical. Under certain circumstances such as a unique experience like illness or injury, the development of one twin may change due to a long-term lifestyle change. In this case, the environment would have an increased effect on development. But, under normal circumstances the former is always the case.

In actuality, we are not much different from our parents. If a parent is aggressive, which is in large part due to our genetics, their children will develop similarly. Our actions and behaviours are not simply influenced by our environment or governed by a long week of stress and worry. They are governed by our genes and by our parents' genes and by their parents' genes, etc. We are not blank slates to be molded into something that is socially acceptable. Rather, we are biological entities that already have strengths and weaknesses that are governed by our genes. If we are to live up to our potential, parents and society need to set expectations that are realistic and that are in line with the needs of individuals, not of a group of individuals. I am not supporting the idea that parenting is obsolete but rather saying that children can learn a lot from their parents because they are genetically similar and a lot of how we develop is governed by our own genetics. However, with the changing times, it is also important to accept new facts and pieces of knowledge which can further expand the minds of our children and that cannot be easily taught by the older generations.

We must break free from the nurture argument and accept that there is such a thing as human nature in the context of heredity and not the environment.