An original essay
by Edward Fagan
Every once in awhile I become involved in a conversation with friends or relatives about the behaviour (usually of a habitual and undesirable kind) of a child or adolescent about whom we care and the question always arises as to who or what is the cause of that behaviour.
My friends and relatives almost always hold the view that the blame is to be placed solely on the shoulders of someone else (for example, the influence from others, peer pressure) or something else (for example, the lack of money or other physical possession). I almost always hold the view that their position is a mistaken one.
Are people born with any tendencies or potential to develop any tendencies that will later result in or influence the nature of their actions, preferences, likes, dislikes and so on as they develop and mature toward adulthood; or are they born as a blank slate, without any such tendencies or potential to develop any such tendencies?
The answer to the first part of that question seems to be yes, the answer to the second part seems therefore to be no. Such tendencies, actual or potential and so on are sometimes visibly seen displayed in the behaviour of some very small children and even babies.
As they grow older and mature toward adulthood, such behaviour in those very small children and babies not only remains consistent throughout their development but also becomes more and more pronounced as time passes.
Since that is the case, we can also safely say that in order for something to develop and mature, that-something must first exist, if only as a seed from which the final result will develop.
Here are two good examples that seem to show the correctness of the answers given to the double question that is asked above. This is the first example: the very first time I heard classical music (I was a very small child who was at the stage of development that allowed him to be able to appreciate music.) I liked it.
It was heard from a neighbour’s radio. Prior to, and at that moment I had never seen anyone anywhere listening to or showing any kind of appreciation for classical music. (I actually grew up in a home that did not have a radio, television or any other type of audio-visual equipment for the first eighteen years of my life.
That experience, by the way, was without any regret as I had access to a world of great books.) My love for classical music became deeper and more sophisticated with time as I matured and grew older.
The second example is: I started sucking my right index finger and the one next to it at birth (They probably were being sucked even before birth.) and continued to suck them until age eleven. There could not have been any ‘external influence’ acting on and influencing me to start and continue sucking my fingers in this case.
There also is the question of choice. We are free to choose between following our natural born-with tendencies that incline our behaviour toward a certain direction, and following other courses of action (either internally or ‘externally’ motivated) temporarily or permanently.
(Here is an example of this point: when I stop sucking my index and other fingers after doing so for eleven years as mentioned above, I resisted a born-with tendency and practice for their opposite course of action. That opposite course of action was internally motivated, I decided finger-sucking was not the best practice to keep, and that opposite course of action, giving up finger-sucking, was also permanent.)
Given what has been said above, it therefore seems truthful to say that we are not born as blank slates but with tendencies that influence and shape our behaviour even though we can resist these tendencies and act contrary to them if we so desire.
By Edward Fagan