Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nature or Nurture?

What makes some people think of others' well-being while some people appear oblivious to it? Is this behavior innate or learned?

This is yet another topic I've had on my mind.

My family has a long history of volunteering. My parents have served long stints on boards for causes aligned with their interests. They have given their time and money to many other causes. My parents also go out of their way to help others, even when it inconveniences them. (Can we talk about the foster dog for a moment?!) My husband also comes from a family of givers, both of time and money.

I think it's innate.

It's the same thing in networking. You're a natural networker if you make connections without regard for what you will get out of it. You're a selfish networker if you do it one-sided, which is not networking at all, it's taking.

I recently had an extended conversation with a woman who works in the office at Children's Hospital Family House. She was raised in a single parent household by a mother who worked two jobs. Her mother did not have the time or energy to volunteer or do for others. Yet this woman told me that she just knew she'd work with people in crisis, that it was instinct for her to serve others, and to give.

Some people have every advantage and it's just not in their DNA to give. I know a woman who is an exceptional wife and mother and she would never think of volunteering or making matzoh ball soup for a sick neighbor. It's not because she's an inconsiderate person; it's just because she has a full plate managing her family's home life. Another woman I know is moderately philanthropic but would never take your child home with her own after school if you were running late at a doctor's appointment. She is happy to ask for the occasional favor but rarely will she help you unless the benefit to her is crystal clear.

And yet others give selflessly for years on end without knowing or caring if it will come back to them in the grander scheme of things. One of my co-workers has served a non-profit for the better part of two decades; he refers to it as his second full-time job. What an inspiration he is!

I posed this question on Facebook. Most people responded that they thought it was a combination of nature and nurture. I liked Ron's response: "I'd venture to say you're going to see four groups: predisposed with reinforced breeding; predisposed but raised during 'The Narcissism Epidemic'; not predisposed but raised 'well' anyway, and sadly, the bottom of the barrel and who didn't have it and never got it."

My father thinks it's bred. But then again he has a master's degree in sociology and thinks all behavior is learned.

Devout Christian and Pastor Chris, my high school classmate, strongly believes it's bred. He writes, "For those who think the altruism gene is evident sans nurture, just take a look at any two-year-old playing with toys."

Deidre, who along with her husband Loren, is incredibly philanthropic, writes, "Being a good citizen of the world and being philanthropic go hand-in-hand. And if you are lucky enough to have parents that guide you in this direction then it is the gift that keeps on giving through the generations." How thoughtful is that response?!

Anyone care to weigh in?

1 comment:

Ron Hutzul said...

I like that you liked my comment!!