Nature Or Nurture

Nature Or Nurture

To what extent do man’s natural skills contribute to success in life? To what extent do external factors like his upbringing, the social norms that he imbibes from society, hard work, the opportunities that come his way in life contribute to making a human being successful? These are not easy questions to answer. Some might argue that the genes a person inherits from his parents and which define his natural skills are fundamental to success and the external factors play only a secondary role. We also hear the opposite.

We see all kinds of people around us. We often see headlines in the television like “Twelve year old girl cracks the Mensa with an IQ score of 170!!! Greater than that of Einstein and Hawking!!!”. On the other hand we often hear parents lamenting their child’s inability to secure even passing grades in school. My wife who is a teacher of mathematics argues that appearances are deceptive. A child might appear to have poor skills but hidden deep inside each one of us is at least one skill that is extremely well developed and it is only a question of finding what this unique skill is.

Be that as it may, I for one contend that natural skills are extremely important. The foundation for a person’s success in life is laid down by his natural skills. And by natural skills I am referring to the emotional quotient and not the intelligence quotient. What is emotional quotient? It is the sum total of your qualities as a person. This could include a wide range of attributes like inner strength, intelligence, street-smartness, persistence, the determination to fight against impossible odds, resourcefulness, stress management skills and so on. I would go so far as to say that even physical attributes like good looks, height, build etc also contribute in their own way to laying the foundation of a successful life.

Emotional quotient defines the qualities on the basis of which we can build on the the opportunities we get in life. What I am contending is that if internally we are par excellence, no matter what challenges life throws at us, we can survive and be successful. There have been men and women who have risen to be great leaders in spite of not being able to afford even a rudimentary education. People have overcome extreme hardships like abject poverty and oppressive social norms by dint of  sheer resourcefulness. People have survived concentration camps and lived to tell the tale; all because of the inner strength and will power they possessed.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that it is nature all the way and nurture does not matter. Hard work, opportunities to shine in fields that we have an aptitude for, the presence of a good mentor who moulds our natural skills do matter. And above all, there is an element of chance or luck that plays a very important role in making a man successful. 

A few months back I was listening to an interview given by Mr. N.R. Narayanamurthy who was the Infosys chairman and is often referred to as the Bill Gates of India.

I don’t remember his exact words but in answer to one question he mentioned that during the course of his career he had come across several people who were much more talented than him but had not been as successful because they were not favored by the element of luck or chance which is mandatory for success. This comes from a man who has seen the pinnacle of success. He ought to know. No matter how talented one may be, it is important that external factors and the element of chance favor us.

Am I sounding contradictory? Well, let me try to quantize things. How important is nature and how important is nurture? I have seen people who have had any number of chances to make a success of their lives but have still failed. I have also come across people who are born in the underbelly of society in extreme poverty; in broken homes, but still make something of themselves. And then there is the third category which has nominal skills and nominal opportunities and manage to succeed in life.

My contention is simply this. To be successful in life it is important to possess the minimal natural skills which are conducive to at least a nominal degree of success. After that it is nurture all the way. If we do not have the nominal emotional quotient which can also be termed as eligibility criteria for success, no matter how well we are nurtured, we will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way. On the other hand if our natural skills are very good but the element of chance or luck is completely against us we can still try our best and break through somehow.
To make it clearer let me use the great Indian philosopher Dr. S. Radhakrishnan’s analogy of life being a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is not in your control. What is in your control is how you play the game. If you are dealt a hand with very poor cards with no trumps at all, then no matter how brilliantly you play you will lose. But if your cards are at least nominally good, you can play well and do something about it. So natural skills take an upper hand and after that we have to do our best and succeed.  

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