By Cordelia Fitzgerald (Rated G)
“Nature or Nurture? Either way, it’s your parents’ fault.” This, or some proclamation of similar essence, was emblazoned on the front of a t-shirt that popped up in an ad on my computer. Needing no excuse at all to dive down a rabbit hole, I sat and wondered at the philosophy presented by this random company.
Nature vs. Nurture, as anyone who has taken a reasonably recent psychology class knows, is the continual query as to whether genes and other shared physical characteristics (nature) or the environment, social atmosphere, and method of upbringing (nurture) cause certain tendencies or behaviors. This debate often takes center stage in social issues; is homosexuality, for example, a product of the culture or of physical composition? Sides are taken, shots are fired, debate halls are filled, and few stop to consider the nature of the beast itself.
“Which Hogwarts House would she be?” A coworker quickly runs through the characteristics of each House, finally settling on Ravenclaw. “He’s an ENFJ!” “So typical of people like him – chaotic good.” “Are you more Phlegmatic or Sanguine?” “She’s probably not going to come. Those Scorpios!” How we like to package people neatly and tuck them, tied up with a perfect bow, in a little slot with their fellow creatures! Human beings are unpredictable, and any hint we can glean or formula that we can follow that sheds some light of foreknowledge on their actions is welcomed with open arms. To understand those around us is a heady power and one that we would not lightly lose.
However, practical and charitable purposes abound for many of these ways of personality-typing. Psychologists need to know what sort of person they are working with, and while we are unpredictable, we are unpredictable, dare I say it, in patterns. Ah, he’s an introvert, so inviting him to a large celebration is not the way to help him recharge. Or conversely, she’s an extrovert, and one more day alone in her rooms will drive her mad. Good and useful purposes exist for these systems, and they are in themselves, it would seem, amoral.
What strikes my fancy is the use that has increasingly been made of this neutral tool. Having pondered erratically on the first clause of the saying I led with, I shall turn to the second: “Either way, it’s your parents’ fault.” “I’m an introvert, sorry I didn’t go!” “We Leos don’t recover quickly.” “Who ever knew a Slytherin to back down?”*
Human nature takes every opportunity to shift blame, and here we have it in its full force. How terribly convenient to have nationally recognized (and scientific, some of them!) reasons for our actions that have become such a part of the culture that they masquerade as simple explanations. Or jokes. Or interesting tidbits. Never what they actually are: excuses.
Frankly, what difference does it make where your inclination or trait or personality quirk comes from? What matters is whether it is good or bad. Is it good? Congratulations! I wish all virtues could become habits. Is it bad? Fix it! Or at least work on it – don’t let it fester. Perhaps you’re a Hufflepuff and use it to hide your cowardice – everyone knows Hufflepuffs aren’t brave! (Or are they? Please refer to note #1 and only.) Well, stand up and become the first brave Hufflepuff. Spending time assigning blame or origins or reasons or whatever you wish to call it distracts from the simple fact that this problem cannot be solved by anyone except you. You are your own personality type. And you are in charge of how that type is defined. Is Jane Elizabeth Smith of 1 Main Street Manchester NH a pleasant type to be with? Or does she leave us wishing her mother hadn’t eaten that peach on her yogurt on her 24th day of pregnancy? Because, while Jane Elizabeth Smith might not be able to master time travel and annihilate the peach that ruined her personality, she just might be able to sun her peaches and cream complexion in the service of others and not let that life-changing fruit define her.
*(I suppose it’s time I insert a disclaimer: I am not, and never shall be, near approaching even a casual acquaintance with either astrological signs or Hogwarts Houses. I apologize in advance for any misconstructions or inaccuracies. I merely comment on them here as another means of typing that I have encountered.)