Are we born aggressive, ready to assert ourselves on top of the food chain of evolution, or are we born with an urge to help others and be cooperative?
It seems that recent research is veering us away from long held beliefs stating that we are born selfish, aggressive, flawed in many ways and in much need of improvement, socialization, sublimation and transformation in order to function as a moral human being.
If you are at all familiar with Freud’s theory (and who isn’t?) and it’s great influence on our thinking during the 20 century and beyond, you will know that he argued that aggression stems from a death wish or instinct we are all born with, a destructive wish directed initially toward self and later toward others.
Psychological adaptation, if successful, helps us adjust and live in relative peace with ourselves and our neighbors but only barely so!
Interestingly enough, a survey done recently in the US by John Horgan, a science journalist, shows that 9 out of 10 participants when asked, “Will war amongst nations/various groups within nations, ever end” ? answered “No, never it is human nature to fight endlessly!”
But is it human nature? Resent research refute this conclusion.
Andy Meltzoff from the UW wrote in his book “The Scientist in the Crib” that kids as young as 2 can show genuine empathy toward others. Even a one year old will show signs of distress when another baby gets hurt. In a recent article in the NYT (Dec 1st, by Michael Wade) Dr. Tomasello, a developmental psychologist claims that babies are born with a natural inclination to help others as seen in an 18th months old picking up for his mom a dropped clothespin or running to find her a bandaid when she tripped over the stair.
“…this helping behavior seems to be innate because it appears so early before it could be taught by parents,” he asserts in the article. But is there something parents can do to enhance this sociable helpful behavior?
Apparently yes! Dr. Tomasallo says that INDUCTIVE Parenting works best. Inductive Parenting, like Reflective Parenting, is an approach that helps the child gain insight into other people’s mind, behavior and emotions as well as their own.
As the parents communicate with their children about the meaning of their behavior and the effect that their action has on others, it helps build in them a certain sophistication. This sophistication, according to Andy Meltzoff, enables a young toddler to gain understanding on how other people feel, how to make them feel better as well as the social reward that comes from this behavior.
When we as a society can nurture the child’s innate quality of empathy and cooperation with a “good enough” mindful parenting, we will be able to reinforce the timeless Golden Rule: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
Then, peaceful cooperation, not war will seem our second nature!