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By Rajesh Oza Email By Rajesh Oza
July 2009

Nature or Nurture?

Dear PMG:

I have a personality that wants to enjoy life and tends to be lazy about planning for studies and finances. When offered the choice between living for today or saving for tomorrow, I almost always choose the here and now; this outlook frees up time to surf websites, chat with friends, download music, and go to my favorite movies. I completely subscribe to the spirit and title of the film: Kal Ho Naa Ho. The way I figure, “Tomorrow May Never Come,” and today is right here in front of me.   

This gets me in trouble with my parents and teachers. All of them keep talking about studying hard in my youth so that I can enjoy a successful future. And my parents, especially dad, keep telling me to save money for a rainy day. But what’s the point of mowing my neighbor’s lawn if I can’t spend the few dollars I earn? Really, what’s the point of being young if you can’t enjoy it?

Dear Friend,

“Swaraj is my birthright.” (M. K. Gandhi)   

One way to think about your dilemma is that your nature is at odds with the way adults in your life want to nurture you.   

As one who has accumulated many degrees, including a mid-career doctorate, I’ve long believed that my academic successes were attributable to my parents’ perseverance and self-control more than any natural brilliance of mine. As a child of immigrants who at times worked three jobs to make ends meet, I was raised to believe optimistically that nurture trumps nature. However, there is considerable research which suggests that self-control may be an example of nature and nurture working hand in glove, with helpful genes and habits passed along from parent to child.   

But in the America of the 21st century, we may have a less helpful societal code. How do we expect our children to defer gratification when goodies of every shape and color are but an Internet click away? What to make of a society that has moved away from the virtues of thrift and hard work to one that values promiscuous tweets and instant messages?

My wife and I have long encouraged our children to understand that discipline is not something we do to them, but rather it is something that they develop for themselves.      It’s not that we don’t want them to enjoy their childhoods, but rather we believe that Gandhiji’s concept of “swaraj” can be thought of at a personal level, not just a political one. Swaraj—which during colonialism was a rallying cry for independence—is literally translated as self-rule. If applied to each of us individually, it can mean that we have control over ourselves. In a world of nonstop pop-ups, we can use swaraj to resist being ruled by impulses or by advertisements that encourage acquiring material goods for instant gratification. We can be our own rulers and enjoy shaping our own destinies.

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