Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of being joined on Swirl and Thread by writer Helene Leuschel.
Helene was very honest and open with her answers and was so enthusiastic that she also wrote a great guest post for my blog.
Entitled Nature, Nurture and The Ability to Empathize, it truly is a lovely piece of writing and I am delighted to able to present it to you as I hand over to Helene now.
I would like to share some of my thoughts here on the nature and nurture debate and its influence on my writing.
Have you ever wondered about what is it like to BE someone?
Is it your looks, the sound of your voice, the way you experience a sunset, the knowledge you acquire at school and maybe later the degree you studied for, the habits you adopt through your culture, the language you speak or the upbringing and the socio-economic circumstances you grew up in that shape the way you think?
Would you be you if you’d grown up in a Nepalese village rather than Liverpool or New York?
I find these questions hugely fascinating and they often allow me to step back and look at myself with a more critical eye. At the end of the day, I do firmly believe that my life would have been shaped by very different memories, different habits and opinions if I’d grown up somewhere very different to Belgium. Even if, for the sake of argument, my genetic baggage was the same in either place, the life I would have led in Brussels or in Kabul for instance would have been shaped by the environment in a decisive way.
It’s the old debate of nature and nurture.
I bumped into an old friend of mine from University when I was back in Belgium this summer and thought it would be interesting to share her story with you here.
My friend sounds Belgian, feels Belgian and she is a dedicated teacher in a Belgian state school since almost two decades.
Her parents are both Belgian, yet the one thing that makes her stand out as different is the colour of her skin because she was actually adopted at the age of two, a little emaciated toddler from a Southern village in India, where years later she would return with a backpack as a troubled teenager, tracking down the orphanage for the sake of ‘finding her roots’, finding herself as she told me.
What she did find out during the trip was that her birthday had always been celebrated on the wrong day in Brussels and that the people she encountered in the streets, the shops and Hindu sites had as little in common with her as if she’d been white and blue-eyed and just an ordinary tourist exploring India.
She made a major realization during her travels and that was the fact that although she enjoyed being among Indians for the first time and has been keen to learn more about their culture ever since, she fully acknowledged her Belgian identity and also that her life would have been quite different had she grown up within an Indian community and this without even judging which one she would have preferred.
There is no unequivocal answer to this question because not only are we influenced by the environment we live in, our personal characteristics and traits, talents and temperaments also determine to an important extent how we actually experience that very environment.
During my studies for an MA in Philosophy, I developed a keen interest for psychology, the philosophy of mind and more specifically the human capacity for empathy.
I guess it is one thing to be born into a specific set of socio-economic and cultural circumstances, yet another to be endowed more or less well with the capacity to ‘feel for’ or ‘feel with’ another person, therefore to imagine what it is like to BE someone else.
It could be said that it is a survival skill but one that, if not present in a narcissistic or perverted individual, is dangerous for all those who get in contact with them because if there is no or very little ability to understand another person, it results in a lack of respect for their emotions and ultimately their equal worth.
Accordingly, my friend will still have felt enough kinship with the people of the village where she was born in order to understand to some extent what it would have been like to grow up there and to feel a connection.
My first work of fiction ‘Manipulated Lives’ felt like a continuation of the research I undertook in this area.
Fiction in my view is the perfect outlet for anyone to imagine what it is like to be someone else or reflect on why it is important to try, explore the ways and reasons for decision-making and that the nature/nurture debate remains an immensely fascinating puzzle for the human mind.’
To read more about Helene Leushel and her new book Manipulated Lives, please continue reading here in the Q & A I had with Helene: