The cumulative effects of negative life experiences

There used to be an ongoing debate about which factor shapes the personality, the behavior of a child more…is it nature or nurture. An uneasy truce has been declared in some quarters, but I tend to side with nature, because I believe genes control far more than such simple things as eye color, height, nose shape, etc.. I think that genes are far more controlling than science has given them credit for, and indeed, can influence such things foods we prefer, people we are attracted to, etc..

But, let me drop this bias of mine toward the personality shaping effects of genes, and think about the environment, as shaper of young minds, young bodies.

If you are a child, born to natural parents or adopted at a young age, much of how you see yourself, arrives as a result of how you are talked to, how you are treated. If you are told you are intelligent, can do almost anything, in short, if you are treated with love and respect, it tends to give you confidence as you grow up, that is, if they don’t go overboard and turn you into a spoiled brat.

On the other hand, if you are unlucky enough to have abusive parents, people who constantly tear you down, continually make you feel ugly, inadequate, that has a toll as well. But, that said, are you doomed to be an outcast, a criminal, someone who doesn’t fit in with society because the programming you have been given, is you are worth nothing, that you are a useless failure.

There is one thing that can alter a young person…that is a mentor. A positive, healthy relationship with a mentor can engender confidence in a young person, can make them want to reach for the stars, but, when children are around an adult, perhaps a family friend who not only is not a positive influence, but perhaps abuses a child when no one is around, this can have a very negative influence, one that oddly enough, pressure the victimized child to grow up and victimize others.

Beyond that though, as we enter young adulthood, we may go through various rites of passage…we may have our first sexual encounter,may have our first fist fight, might get our first job…and as we go through these, they can all be cumulative, where one negative experience builds on the last negative experience (or vice versa, one positive experience builds on the last positive experience).

Like the accretions of barnacles on the hull of a ship, these accretions, these added experiences , be they positive or negative, can lead to a full grown adult who is full of rage, or in the alternative, a grown adult who wishes to pay it forward, to help others, to share the good treatment they have received from other, good folks.

The person we are as an adult, is not just sprung out of thin air, but instead, reflects all the events we go through. I can remember when I was a child, I thought like an adult, and was constantly upset if I encountered an adult who treated me paternalistic or condescending.

Respect is one of the most important things in the world. It, like love, is something you get by giving it away. I call respect a boomerang treatment, because when you throw that respect boomerang out to normal , decent folks, you are apt to have your respect returned.

So, by the time you get in your 60s, you are the  Cumulation of these life experiences….respect or disrespect and this helps to shape how you relate to others. If you were raised by people who told you that you would never amount to anything, that you were a loser, you cannot blame kids for joining gangs in they are embraced, called brother, and told they are valuable. But, the flipside is also true. If you were raised by good people who were supportive, who gave your positive strokes, then you are more apt to be a person who derives pleasure from being of service to others.

So, if we want a new generation of criminals, don’t show them positive role models. Teach them money is the be all and end all of life, and the car salesman or grocery clerk doesn’t ask how you got the money to pay the bill, they just care about you having it.


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