Nature Vs. Nurture

The age old debate of nature vs. nurture has always been one of interest to me. The basic dilemma that I have continued to deliberate is as follows: Am I shaped by my environment and how I was brought up, or am I a product of a multitude of hereditary factors? Although it is widely accepted that the nature of our beings is an intricate combination of the two, the realization that my “nurture” is often quite different than that of others was something that started to intrigue me.

It took me some time to internally define what I sought to explore, but it is now clear to me that I have a strong inclination to understand my own privilege. Privilege is a broad, complex idea, that seems exceptionally challenging because it calls both “nature” and “nurture” into question. When it comes to “nurture”, the environment one is brought up in can be drastically different than that of others, offering certain advantages to some that aren’t necessarily as apparent to others. This can surface as access to a variety of resources. On the other hand, “nature” can define qualities so inherent to a person, such as race, gender, and ethnicity that can also set the foundations for these notions of privilege.

I am a white female that grew up in an area with abounding access to healthcare, food, and familial support. For me, most things were calculable.  When I was young, I focused my time working hard in school and enjoying sports, knowing that I would likely go on to college and have the opportunity to study and explore whatever I chose. I didn’t have to worry about financially supporting myself or a family, taking care of a sick loved one, where my next meal would come from, or feeling safe in my surroundings. I took all of these privileges with extreme gratitude, but slowly started to understand that there were stark differences between my experiences than those of others. But why was this the case?  I would, and still do, constantly ask myself questions such as “How is my experience different than others?” and, more importantly, “Why did I have a different experience, and how has it shaped me?” The answer to the latter is not an easy one to answer, and one I continue to reflect on.

I find it particularly meaningful to continue to seek out experiences that challenge me to understand my own privilege. One of those experiences is specifically my year of service with the National Health Corps. Much of the value I find in my year of service is hearing and learning about other people’s stories; how their own versions of nature and nurture interplay. Gaining these appreciations throughout my day to day has taught me to take a moment to consider someone else’s “nurture” before making an assumption about their “nature.” When I am able to reflect on other people’s experiences, it forces me to question my position in the world and how the power structures I operate in have affected these very specific groups I was born into. Although understanding my own privilege will likely be a life-long feat, it is something of great value to me that I will continue to reflect on day-to-day.


This post was written by NPHC member Madison Altmyer.

Madison serves at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank as a Health Educator.