How much of this is nature and how much is nurture? Nobody really has a great answer to that question. What we know for certain, though, is that the debate as a whole is a waste of time. Because if it was only nature, there’d be no reason for any of us to do anything or even ponder how we can make our kids’ lives better.
The good news, unsurprisingly, is that your efforts as a parent are not futile. Research in recent years has proved the power of nurture in the development of our children. (If you are interested, you can read more about that here and here). But we’ve known this to be true for much, much longer than this.
Plutarch tells the story of how Lycurgus reformed Spartan society from rebellious, rowdy, and soft to self-disciplined, temperate, and courageous. He bred two dogs from the same litter—one in the home and one out in the hunting fields. When they were fully acclimated, Lycurgus brought both dogs to a public assembly. He set down the house-dog’s food then the hunting-dog’s. Before he released the dogs, he let loose a hare. The house-dog went to his food. The hunting-dog went after the hare.
“You see, fellow citizens,” Lycurgus said, “these dogs belong to the same stock, but by virtue of the discipline to which they have been subjected they have turned out utterly different from each other, and you also see that training is more effective than nature for good.”
After his demonstration in the public assembly proved that nurture trumped nature, Lycurgus said, “So also in our case, fellow-citizens, noble birth, so admired of the multitude, and our being descended from Heracles does not bestow any advantage, unless we do the sort of things for which he was manifestly the most glorious and most noble of all mankind, and unless we practice and learn what is good our whole life long.”
And so it goes with your own family. If we want great kids—kids who are resilient, who are smart, who are positive difference makers—then we have to do the work. We have to shape them. We have to prepare them, be present for them. We have to nurture the traits we want them to have, correct for the ones we don’t.
That’s what we’re here for—and that’s how we shape not just their future, but the future of the world.
P.S. This was originally sent on June 14, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Dad’s email and get our popular 11 page eBook, “20 Things Great Dads Do Everyday.”