The human brain matures and develops no matter what. No matter the inputs it receives from the senses. No matter the diet. No matter the amount and quality of sleep. No matter the social, emotional, and psychological milieu. The brain will mature, the person will grow, the organism will seek survival and, should basic human needs be established, find homeostasis. Now, how the brain matures and an individual’s likelihood of achieving self-actualization and homeostasis…are dependent almost entirely upon the environment.
That is, biological maturation occurs inevitably. However, the quality and meaning of that maturation occurs in context.
The “nature versus nurture” conversation is flawed from the very prepositional concept. We have to move past the false dichotomy of “versus” and approach the interconnected reality of “with.”
Speaking of “with,” I work with many complex, speech-and-language-impaired, neurologically atypical children.
Now think about this: A typical system, with typical neurology, given adequate inputs, will progress typically. There’s really not much we need to do beyond providing adequate food, shelter, rest, social-consistency, and emotional stability. (Note: The definition of “adequate” is quite diverse in typical organisms.)
However, when a biological system is disordered…when an individual is contending with significant difference(s), we cannot rely on typical maturation alone. That’s why people seek treatment(s).
Nonetheless, we cannot underestimate the power of biological, and in particular, neurological maturation, lest we plan to either take excessive credit for another’s growth or, conversely, excessively blame the other’s brain for a lack thereof.
But make no mistake, the social and emotional foundation for maturation matters.
If I, as a parent, caregiver, teacher, clinician or influencer of any sort, view a person with whom I’ve agreed to work as broken, and if I believe myself a kind-of skilled neuro-behavioral carpenter who can fix that which is broken, the message received by that person will undoubtedly cause self-doubt, worry, anxiety, frustration, sadness, depression, resentment, disgust, fear, and/or anger.
It is not healthy…is, in fact, biologically counterproductive to have one’s brain and body awash in the neurochemicals of fight-or-flight.
Yet we as influencers often, perhaps almost always, interact with individuals with atypical behavioral, communicative, and/or learning styles in a manner that increases sympathetic nervous system responses and, in turn, decreases motivation, attention, and the ability to learn and change desirably. (It is semantically ironic that the sympathetic nervous system causes a state of being quite the opposite of sympathy.)
If we do nothing more than establish and encourage environments that are safe, responsive, individually motivating, and geared toward praise, reward, and active engagement…can we outpace maturation?
I believe we can.
I’ve seen it, experienced it, encouraged it, and sought to cause it. Furthermore, there is evidence pointing to it. (It is beyond the scope of this post to illuminate and annotate such evidence. But it is out there, and it is easily searchable.)
Can we not only outpace maturation but also bolster self-esteem, self-determination, and self-awareness?
Again, I believe we can. (And again, you can seek evidence supporting the premise of the question.)
Relationship matters more than behavioral modification.
No success will come without feelings of success and a state of homeostasis.
Take the rise and demise of Tiger Woods as an example. How is it that an athlete as skilled, confident, and intimidating as he could so quickly tumble into insignificance and athletic mediocrity? The internal state obviously matters more than the core skill set. (Indeed, the synchrony of the two, bringing complete homeostasis, is the ideal context. However, the foundation of internal peace and happiness is an absolute necessity.)
We must all feel unconditionally loved, from others and from ourselves, before we can experience real, lasting, neuro-chemically significant change.
Love really is the critical element of human progress.
Now…when skill is added to love, there is an exponential power at hand.
But skill without love is devoid of functional human relevance.
When necessary skills are inadequate for a desired task, those skills must be both given/taught and received/learned in love to become both meaningful and permanent.
All you need is love.