Nurture or Nature – What Makes Us Compassionate?
Like many other vegans and animal rights activists I know, no one else in my family is particularly “into” animals the way that I am. Some friends of mine have even been disowned by their families because of their unwavering commitment to helping animals. So where does this desire to help animals come from – nature or nurture?
This is a topic that scientists and psychologists have long been studying – where human characteristics and behaviors come from. Do they come from the things we learn from our parents, society, and other influential factors in our environment such as television? Or are they something we are born with?
Well, the honest but not very satisfying answer is that both these things most likely play a part in who we are and what we believe, but we cannot yet be sure how much of a part each factor plays. While scientists are yet to categorically prove the existence of a “behavior gene,” research has shown that even identical twins with the same genetic makeup can turn out to have completely different personalities and belief systems.
Many scholars now argue that genes and the environment have an interactive relationship, meaning that our environment influences how a gene comes to express itself. For example, a child may have a gene that triggers obesity, but if he or she is brought up with healthy eating habits, then the person is less likely to become obese than if he or she is raised on a diet of chips and cookies.
What is interesting about this concept is the idea that we can pick up different things from the same environment. For example, my brother and I were raised under the same roof in the same way by a mother with the same values. We watched the same television programs, and I cannot recall a time when my school taught me to value animals differently from him. Yet by the time I was 11, I did not want to eat animals anymore while he was happy to continue doing so.
Somewhere along the way, my views on this issue changed. Most likely, it was an accumulation of information and experiences that led me to a different path. My brother is a very compassionate person but does not empathize as much with animals, so perhaps we share the same genetic makeup, but our environment has influenced the effects of our genes.
If you’re wondering why this debate is important or why as animal activists we should care, then the answer is simple. What we see, do, and learn from a young age undoubtedly influences the person that we become to some degree. So as vegans and activists, the best thing we can do is teach those around us about the issues in the hope that they too will come to empathize with animals as strongly as we do.
In today’s world of social media, it is easier than ever before to get the message out that animals deserve our consideration. So let’s nurture the next generation of animal lovers and show them that compassion truly is in fashion!
Posted by Claire Fryer